In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Education and Hinduism

  • Introduction
  • Historical Surveys of Hinduism and Education
  • The Vedic Period
  • The Upanishads
  • Classical Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita
  • The Medieval/Early Modern and Bhakti Period

Hinduism Education and Hinduism
Nita Kumar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0240


We may approach the topic “Education and Hinduism” through two overlapping perspectives. In the first, we would take “Hinduism” to be the subject, and see what kinds of education Hinduism proposed and constructed. In the second, we would take “education” to be the subject, and ask what schools, colleges, and educators sought to do with their proposed or constructed understanding of Hinduism. In our first perspective, we find that Hinduism has used certain teaching methods that are often difficult to notice or categorize as “education,” since the term “education” seems to refer to a formal phenomenon that we judge by modern norms of space and time. If we view education as a crucial instrument used by the leaders of society to reproduce their privileges and power and transfer preferred bodies of knowledge to new generations, while reproducing the marginalization of some other groups, we see that in different periods of Indian history, education was responsible for the reproduction of Brahmans and Brahmanism, which in turn shaped Hinduism to a large extent and spilled over into the shaping of Indian polities and societies. If we also understand education to be an epistemological relationship between truth, power, teacher, text, and student—we take education to have both epistemological and political power—we must inquire for different periods of history, and for different communities and spaces, not only how the cultural reproduction worked, but also what these categories—“knowledge,” “text,” “teacher,” and so on—stand for. Since “Hinduism” consists of diverse systems of belief and practice, this is a vast undertaking. Specialists of a region, time period, or community will find some specific studies missing in the following essay. The attempt is to be suggestive rather than all-inclusive. In our second perspective, we focus on the colonial and contemporary periods. Over the last two hundred years, there have been efforts to construct institutions that are either directly “Hindu” in nature or that try to have a “Hindu” component to their curricula or mission. They are based on competing definitions of identity and “Hinduism” that derive from readings of colonial historiography, missionary diatribes, European and Indian discoveries of India’s past, and nationalist imaginings. While it would be impossible to look at the whole range of these, we discuss some sample ones, including their model philosophies and their founders or leaders.

Historical Surveys of Hinduism and Education

The surveys of education that focus specifically on Hinduism are those that deal with ancient India, such as Mookerji 1989 and Ghosh 2001. Other surveys cover only the colonial period, and shed light on both the responses of Hindus to modern education and on constructions of Hinduism by them in an effort to actively build a certain kind of nation and citizen. This is so even when volumes such as Basu 1974, Basu 1982, and Nurullah and Naik 1964 eschew theorization of the possible relationship of indigenous cultures or religions, including Hinduism, to the educational system and epistemology introduced by the British. A strong theoretical perspective is found in Seth 2007, a discussion at a more advanced level that does not give a blow-by-blow account of educational developments as the other works do. In the surveys of the colonial period, we should also add the comprehensive collection of documents in Bhatt and Aggarwal 1987 and Zastoupil and Moir 1999. There are post-Independence surveys that, given the nature and discourse of the Indian state, do not use terms such as Hindu and Hinduism, such as Govinda 2002 and Kingdon and Muzammil 2001. Rudolph and Rudolph 1972 deals with higher education.

  • Basu, Aparna. The Growth of Education and Political Development in India 1898–1920. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1974.

    An account of British educational policy and the growth of elites, including their own educational efforts that were often subversive but also often failures in terms of mass mobilization.

  • Basu, Aparna. Essays in the History of Indian Education. Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 1982.

    Critiqued for their simplistic liberal vision, these essays do cover important aspects of Indian educational history, especially the functioning of colonial policy and its impact upon Indians.

  • Bhatt, B. D., and J. C. Aggarwal, eds. Educational Documents in India (1813–1986). New Delhi: Arya Book Depot, 1987.

    A collection of the basic documents of the colonial state, most of which had a far-reaching impact on Indians.

  • Ghosh, Suresh Chandra. The History of Education in Ancient India, c. 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1192. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001.

    Based on Vedic, Buddhist and Jain texts, this is a survey of ancient education that tends to be non-critical and un-reflective, but is a good beginning for the staple facts.

  • Govinda, R, ed. India Education Report: A Profile of Basic Education. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    An excellent survey of the state of Indian education that may be used for various analytical projects.

  • Kingdon, Geeta, and Mohammad Muzammil. “A Political Economy of Education in India.” Economic and Political Weekly 36.32 (2001): 3052–3062, 3178–3185.

    What a student of Hinduism may be looking for is likely to be under the surface in this survey, but it provides information that is not otherwise available in one place.

  • Mookerji, Radha Kumud. Ancient Indian Education: Brahmanical and Buddhist. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989.

    Originally published in 1947, this voluminous study uses images, travelers’ accounts, and literature to draw a picture of ancient Indian education. The author does not use dates or political history to structure his study, but it ranges from around the 16th century BCE to the 12th century CE.

  • Nurullah, Syed, and J. P. Naik, eds. A Students’ History of Education in India 1800–1965. Bombay: Macmillan, 1964.

    Long regarded as the most useful survey of Indian education; Nurullah and Naik convey, without overt theorizing, a sense of loss as indigenous education was replaced by colonial education.

  • Rudolph, Susanne Hoeber, and Lloyd I. Rudolph, eds. Education and Politics in India: Studies in Organization, Society and Policy. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1972.

    A collection of high-quality essays on the relationship of education and politics, including the politics of caste and religion.

  • Seth, Sanjay. Subject Lessons: The Western Education of Colonial India. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822390602

    Makes a powerful argument regarding how colonial education finally failed to transform Indian students into a modern self-centered subject that should have been the purpose of an education with a legacy in the European Enlightenment.

  • Zastoupil, Lynn, and Martin Moir, eds. The Great Indian Debate: Documents Relating to the Orientalist-Anglicist Controversy, 1781–1843. Richmond, UK: Curzon Press, 1999.

    With some thirty annotated documents, including those penned by Indians, biographical notes on their authors, a glossary of technical terms, and a bibliography of other primary and secondary works, this is a useful collection for understanding education in India.

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