The best way to survey “Hinduism Here” is to consult the syllabus.
Briefly, the course is intended to explore historical, theological, social, and ritual dimensions of “lived Hinduism” in the greater New York area. Common readings deal with diasporic Hinduism in several locations and with the religious plurality of contemporary New York. In the first year it was offered (Spring, 2003), individual field projects focused on several worshipping communities, a retreat center, and a foundation (Research Sites).
Students are not encouraged to ask a single set of questions of every “site.” Rather, they are expected to learn to ask the questions they think will be most fruitful – often with advice from people active at the sites themselves. The only general guideline is: “What do you need to know to begin to understand this organization or community?” Because students typically work in small groups, they are encouraged to pursue a range of approaches, on the assumption that no one can be definitive.
A Student’s Distance
Studying a religious group is rewarding but hard work. It means listening as carefully as possible to the views of the people directly involved and watching sympathetically. It always means participating to some degree in the life of the “site” being studied, but it also implies a certain distance. Students are asked to think for themselves and articulate their perspectives convincingly. Only rarely will these be exactly the perspectives of persons involved in the communities being studied, but it is very important that true communication occur. In cases where there are differences of perspective and they conflict, we make no prima facie judgment about who is “right” – perhaps both, in some way.
For that reason, we especially value the chance to engage with members of the communities we study. This happens from the first moment a student visits a “site” and it continues with every subsequent visit or moment of contact. In 2003 it culminated in a Course Conference, at which students presented their work to representatives of the communities they had been studying and invited response. Interestingly, this also created the possibility of hearing an exchange of views between members of different groups present at the conference. In 2013, as students prepare portraits of their individual sites, they are in close contact with members of the communities they study, whose own web postings, if they exist, are also linked here.