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Hindu studies begin at graduate theological union.

BERKELEY, CALIF. For the first time in its 52-year history, the Graduate Theological Union will offer a dedicated curriculum in Hinduism, beginning this fall, as the initial step toward establishment of a Center for Dharma Studies.

Riess Potterveld, acting president, said the Graduate Theological Union is partnering with the Dhar-ma Civilization Foundation "to expand the representation of the world's great religious traditions."

at the consortium of nine independent theological schools. The Graduate Theological Union--the largest such consortium in the U.S.--includes the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, the Franciscan School of Theology, the Jesuit School of Theology, and five Protestant seminaries and one Unitarian Universalist seminary.

The union also has affiliated centers for Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist studies as well as the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences.

Shiva Bajpai, founding president of the Dharma Civilization Foundation, said his organization's agreement with the Graduate Theological Union "ensures that Hinduism and other Indic religious and philosophical traditions are taught in the United States at a major theological center by scholars who are also dedicated to their faith."

The first academic offerings are:

* A course on the classical sacred texts of Hinduism with emphasis on commentaries by Adi Shan-kara, taught by Ann Berliner of California State University, Fresno

* A course on dharma, justice, gender and ecology, taught by Purush--ottama Bilimoria, professor of philosophy and comparative studies at Deakin University in Australia.

Students at any of the Graduate Theological Union schools and centers will be able to enroll in the courses.

Hinduism, with 1 billion followers, is the world's third-largest religion after Christianity and Islam. It does not have a single, historical founder nor one unified system of beliefs and ideas. Rather, it is diverse system of thought and traditions with such sacred writings as the Vedas, Upanishads and Mahabharata, of which the Bhagavad Gita is a part. Prominent themes are dharma (ethics and duties), samsara (cycle of rebirth), karma (right action), and moksha (liberation from the cycle of samsara).

Manohar Shinde, chair of the Dharma Civilization Foundation, said he envisions the new Dharma Center at the Graduate Theological Union as a community of scholar--practitioners who will enrich discourse on contemporary issues from a dharma--centered perspective. The foundation also supports Hindu studies at the University of Southern California; University of California, Irvine; and Claremont Lincoln University.

Joi Foley, communications manager at the Graduate Theological Union, said the ultimate goal is to offer certificates and a master's degree in Hindu studies. To that end, the consortium is working toward having an endowed chair.

The Graduate Theological Union enrolls about 1,300 students across all its member schools and affiliated centers. It works collaboratively with the University of California, Berkeley, and is home to one of most comprehensive theological libraries in the world.

RELATED ARTICLE: UNDERSTANDING HINDUISM

One of the world's oldest religions, Hinduism - better known as the Vedic religion - accommodates a variety of beliefs that make up the major religious tradition of the Indian subcontinent.

Beginnings

Dates to 7,000 B.C.

Practice * Worship In congregations and at home; domestic shrines

Beliefs and afterlife

* Yoga Mental and physical exercises to calm the restless mind and help soul connect with the universal spirit

* Reincarnation Individual soul is reborn with an appropriate body to undergo consequences of karma (actions)

* Karma Person's actions determine one's future, next life

* Caste Division of society based on occupation and birth

Divinities

Brahman The One Universal Spirit

Forms of the Divine

* Brahma Creator

* Vishnu Preserver

* Siva Destroyer and regenerator

Divine consorts Saktis (Energies)

* Saraswati, of Brahma

* Lakshmi, of Visn

* Parvati, of Siva

Sacred writings

* Scriptures "The Vedas"

* Epics "The Ramayana" and "The Mahabharata," including "The Bhagavadgita"

* Philosophy Six schools, including Vedanta

* Ethics Dharmasastras or moral codes

Sacred symbol

Written form of the Sanskrit word "om," which is used as an object of meditation Siva, shown in the dance of life

[Monica Clark is an NCR West Coast correspondent.]
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Author:Clark, Monica
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jun 20, 2014
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