Social Scientist. v 16, no. 187 (Dec 1988) p. 14.


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KRISHNA MOHAN SHRIMALI^

Religion, Ideology and Society

The problems I refer to, concern what Friedrich Max Muller called Religionswissenchaft or 'science of religions* as early as 1867.1 Although my own research output is minimal, I have nevertheless ventured to undertake the subject because having taught the subject at the postgraduate classes for nearly two decades, I have often felt there is a paramount need for developing the discipline along scientific lines. I propose to undertake a world view with the objective of placing studies on Indian religions in proper perspective.2

We shall not attempt any definition of religion and prefer to take its multi-dimensional character as a convenient starting point.3 Briefly, it may be mentioned that myths, rituals, doctrines, theology, mystic experience, socio-ethical content, etc., constitute some of the major dimensions of the religious phenomenon.4 Similarly, Religionswissenschaft has been variously defined but one of the best known classifications takes cognizance of the psychology, history, sociology and phenomenology of religion.5 A bird's-eye view of the major phases in the creation of a 'science of religions' as an important discipline is desirable to understand the Indian scene. Surely, one can easily identify the methodological transformations between Max Muller*s writings on comparative mythology with an accent on philology in the latter half of the nineteenth century and Bruce Lincoln's analysis of the Rigvedic religion published about a hundred years later.6 From the rather simplistic, though not uncritical, presentation of A. Barth7 to recent writings with pronounced influences of Levi-Strauss* structuralism and Freud's psychoanalysis represents a very long trek.8

Lewis Henry Morgan in his classic work Ancient Society9 published in 1877 wrote, 'Religion deals so largely with imaginative and emotional nature, and consequently with such uncertain elements of knowledge, that all primitive religions are grotesque and to some extent unintelligible' (emphasis added).10 More than half a century before this, August Comte, in his famous Cours de philosophic positive (based on his lectures of the 1820s) had pronounced his theory of the

^Professor of History, University of Delhi



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