Greenwood Press, one of the world's leading publishers of reference titles and academic texts, released a new textbook on Hinduism last week. Written by independent scholar Steven J. Rosen (Satyaraja Dasa), it is the final volume of a six-part series called Introduction to the World's Major Religions. Rosen is the author of over twenty books on Hindu-related subjects and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Vaishnava Studies, a peer-refereed academic journal. He is also a practitioner and disciple of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the worldwide Hare Krishna movement.
The new book comes, significantly, at a time when academics and activists are locked in a bitter debate over whether the California Department of Education should accept revisions, proposed by various Hindu organizations, to textbook depictions of Hinduism. While opponents fear that the revisions are motivated by a political-religious agenda, proponents of the revisions point out the need to correct long-standing biases and misconceptions in portrayals of their faith.
In having him write its Hinduism book, Rosen contends, Greenwood Press seeks to address this tension by portraying Hinduism in a way that is true to an academic approach, but simultaneously respects the unique insights of a practitioner.
"World religions and religious diversity are increasingly being taught in schools," a statement on the Greenwood website explains. "This trend reflects the changing religious landscape of the United States with significant new immigrant groups who worship outside the dominant Judeo-Christian traditions." The new textbook thus aims "to provide students from high school on up and general readers with a clear, objective, detailed overview on the religion's history of foundation, text and major tenets, branches, practice worldwide, rituals and holidays, and major figures."
Rosen practices Vaishnavism, a monotheistic faith that is often considered the largest denomination within the broad Vedic, or Hindu, culture. His own practice notwithstanding, in the book he is careful to accurately present other traditions within the Hindu fold as well. In fact, early on the text, Rosen asserts that the word "Hindu" is a misnomer, which is found nowhere within the tradition itself. Instead, Rosen explains, what is commonly called "Hinduism" is actually an umbrella encompassing different faith traditions, beliefs, and schools of philosophy. The six-volume series, Introduction to the World's Major Religions, is currently available for purchase at www.greenwood.org as well as at www.amazon.com.
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