With over two and a half billion people, the civilizations of China and India have bequeathed humanity several of its most influential religions and schools of thought. From Hinduism and Buddhism through Daoism and Confucianism and on to the Imperial ritual code of China, these traditions are founded on well-established clerical hierarchies and authoritative doctrines that are rooted in millennia old-traditions. However, this view of Chinese and Indian religions as cohesively structured institutions has of late been questioned. Recent studies increasingly indicate that most members of these societies rarely affiliate with a single religion exclusively, but rather incorporate myths, beliefs, and objects of worship from a wide array of belief systems and ritual practices.
This research seminar explores the relations, mutual borrowings, and interconnections between religious institutions and popular belief in China and India from an ethno-historical perspective. It emphasizes the temporal, social, and cultural contexts that shape religious phenomena, addressing central themes in the study of religion, such as the concept of the soul and afterlife, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, divine authority, and the interplay of World Religions (Islam, Buddhism) with local belief systems. The exploration of detailed case studies on a comparative basis shall provide students with important tools for the pursuit of research on themes that are at the core of current scholarly discourses in a wide array of subjects related to religion in India, and China.