2002 Indic Colloquium
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Arvind Sharma

Contact Information




Faculty of Religious Studies
McGill University
3520 University Street
Montreal, QC



(514) 398-4123



(514) 398-2102


Phone (other)

Religion: (514) 398-4121
Religion FAX: (514) 398-6665





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Background Information

Professor Sharma is Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. In addition to the teaching of Hinduism, he is actively engaged on many fronts in studying and promoting inter-religious understanding and tolerance.

He has recently edited Our Religions, a collection of essays, each on a different major religion, each written by a member of that religion. He edits several journals including The Journal of Religious Pluralism.  


An Indic Contribution Towards an Understanding of the Word "Religion" and the Concept of Religious Freedom

In this paper I would like to advance three propositions:

(1) That the word religion, as it is currently employed in English-language discourse around the world, is parochial (as opposed to global) in orientation;

(2) That therefore the use of the word to refer to the reality it claims to describe as it exists around the world distorts this reality, with serious policy consequences;

(3) That the examination of the correlative term dharma from within Indic civilization helps identify one dimension of such distortion with precision; and enables one to propose policy recommendations which will help overcome the effect of such distortion.

Before I proceed to the discussion of the three propositions, I would like to offer two clarifications.

(1) The word religion is being used here not in the philosophically abstract sense of what is religion and how one might define it, but in the historically concrete sense of a religion, that is to say, a specific religious tradition such as Christianity, or Buddhism as employed by the Western academia and media;

(2) The appropriateness of the term religion to describe this reality is being questioned from a global perspective, that is in a geographical way, rather than from a universal perspective with its philosophical undertones and overtones. Hence the issue addressed is the following: Does the word religion correctly describe the religious traditions as found around the globe and not just within the experience of the West. It does not involve a consideration of such matters as whether one can meaningfully speak of religion which shall not be a particular religion, and so on.

Read the entire paper in PDF format (104K, 36 pp.)