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On Hinduism$
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Wendy Doniger

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199360079

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199360079.001.0001

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Are Hindus Monotheists or Polytheists? 1

Are Hindus Monotheists or Polytheists? 1

(p.10) Are Hindus Monotheists or Polytheists?1
On Hinduism

Wendy Doniger

Oxford University Press

Hindu texts and practices suggest the simultaneous existence of polytheism and what seems to be monotheism, but some Hindus find it insulting to be called polytheists. This paradox can be traced to the history of Hinduism. This chapter examines whether Hinduism is monotheistic or polytheistic by looking at the Rig Veda (“Knowledge of Verses”), the first of the three Vedas and the earliest extant text composed in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. It considers how the polytheism of Vedic religion sometimes functioned as a kind of serial monotheism referred to as “henotheism” or “kathenotheism.” It then discusses the Atharva Veda and Upanishadic monism, as well as the doctrine of the Upanishads known as pantheism or panentheism, monism and universalism under the Muslims and the British, Neo-Vedanta in Europe and America, and fundamentalism and diversity in India.

Keywords:   polytheism, monotheism, Hinduism, Rig Veda, kathenotheism, monism, universalism, Neo-Vedanta, fundamentalism, India

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