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Part IV Hinduism Encountering the “Other” During its early history many movements arose in India that broke away from mainstream Brahmanism—such as Jainism and Buddhism—movements that developed into major independent traditions. For many centuries Hindu thinkers were busily working out arguments against Jains and Buddhists, whom they considered ritually heretical and philosophically mistaken. In the course of the last two thousand years India has also become the home of many religions that originated outside India. When the Roman Emperors began persecuting Jews, many fled to India, where some of the oldest synagogues in the world can be found. The Bene Israel became citizens of India, intermarried, and preserved their Jewish faith. When the Arab Muslims overran Persia, a large number of Zoroastrians received asylum in India, whose Parsi community has become one of the wealthiest segments of Indian society. India also has a Christian population of some thirty million, divided into numerous churches. For over five hundred years India was under Muslim rule. In spite massive efforts to turn it into a Muslim country, India did remain, in its majority, Hindu. Even after the separation of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Republic of India is also a country with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. While Hindus have made their peace with Jains and Buddhists, which after some periods of confrontation became accepted as sharing the same culture , and while Parsis never were a problem for Hindus, because they kept to themselves and did not try to convert Hindus to their faith, relations between Hindus and Muslims and Hindus and Christians have been problematic for a long time. Both religions claim uniqueness and exclusivity and both are aiming at winning the whole world for their faith. In this part an attempt is made to show that Hinduism not only developed a dynamic and a mission of its own, but also that it did not remain isolated from other religions. Its interaction with these is a vital part of its history as well as of its present agenda. In order not to expand this section over duly, full 370 PART I V: HINDUISM ENCOUNT ER ING THE “OT HER” chapters have been devoted only to the relation between Hinduism and Buddhism , Islam and Christianity in India. Only major episodes of this fascinating story can be offered here—by necessity much important and interesting detail had to be left out. The encounter with modern Europe, in the guise of the European colonial powers that from the sixteenth century onward played an increasingly large role in India, provoked a many sided reaction among Indians. Early on many Hindus resented the presence and influence of these foreign powers and resisted attempts to Europeanize and to Christianize them. Others took up the challenge of the criticism leveled against the Hinduism of the time and began reforming and remodeling their traditions. The freedom struggle against the British Raj in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries took on religious overtones that found their purest expression in Mahātmā Gandhi and their worst consequence in the partition of the British Indian Empire along religious lines. While India is on the way to becoming an economic and military superpower , it has not ceased to be a country in which religion exerts great influence on the public and private lives of its citizens. While more often than not the frequent Hindu-Muslim riots dominate the news about India and the ideological battles between “secularists” and the proponents of “Hindutva” find commentators in Western papers, a great revival and consolidation of Hinduism is taking place in India and among the expatriate Indian communities. Hindus are proud again of being Hindus and prove it by building temples and forming associations that preserve and enhance the Hindu heritage in India and outside. ...


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