SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Hinduism: Foundation

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Term 2

This course is an introduction to Hinduism, the major religious tradition of South Asia. Hinduism encompasses diverse religious traditions which have evolved in the Indian sub-continent in the last three and a half thousand years. 

Today they are represented by an extensive corpus of textual sources, a variety of artistic productions, and the practices, experiences and interpretations of over eight hundred million Hindus. Beginning with the oldest archeological data and textual sources, this course traces the development of Hindu traditions from the ancient fire rituals, through the epic stories of the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa, to issues that face Hindus around the world in today’s global society. 

The lectures will deal with religio-philosophical ideas, ritual practices, material culture, and the textual sources of the main traditions of Hinduism and their social and historical contexts.

Throughout the course we will return to a number of core questions: 

  • What is the relationship between text and practice?
  • What is the relationship between religion and culture?
  • In what ways does Hinduism intersect with social, gender, and political issues?
  • What are some of the issues that face traditional Hindus in the modern world?

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of this course typical student be able to do most of the following:

  • problematise the term 'Hinduism'
  • trace in outline the history of the tradition
  • describe the received socio-religous position, both in terms of caste and in terms of deities, demons, ghosts,etc...
  • locate the main elements of Hindu practice in terms of pragmatic, dharmic and transcendental motivations, and organise them into a phenomenological model
  • have studied, at least, the Bhagavad Gita and able to discuss it  
  • be able to find and use books, journals and other sources of information relevant to topics studied in this course
  • have written in detail on at least two approved topics relevant to the course
  • have contributed to a presentation on a topic relevant to the course

Scope and syllabus

The course provides a basic introduction to Hinduism for those with little or no previous knowledge. It traces the history of the tradition in outline, identifies the main elements of Hinduism in practice and offers a conceptual model for representing them.

Method of assessment

  • Essay 1: 1500 words (20%)
  • Essay 2: 2500 words (30%)
  • One 2 hour Exam (50%)

Suggested reading

  • Flood, Gavin (1996) An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Flood, Gavin (ed.) (2003) The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Knott, K (2000) Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Mittal, Sushil & Thursby, Gene (eds) (2004) The Hindu World. London: Routledge.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules