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Understanding World Religions

Religion is the driving force behind much of what happens in the world today -- particularly when it comes to the "big three" religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Religious differences have and continue to spark wars, create nations, and spawn ongoing conflict down through the centuries. No matter what religion you adhere to (or even if you claim that you don't adhere to any religion at all), you need to have a basic understanding of the world's religions in order to understand what is happening in the world today so that you can be better informed and a more useful citizen of your nation and of the world. Without some knowledge of religion, you will not understand the underpinnings of what is happening in an increasingly global society.
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May 21, 2015

Our quote for today is from the Indian philosopher and religious teacher Swami Prabhavananda. He said, "The little space within the heart is as great as the vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun and the moon and the stars. Fire and lightening and winds are there, and all that now is and all that is not."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Hinduism" 

Hinduism, the world's third largest religion, has about 850 million followers. Most Hindus live in India, although the Indian diaspora has taken the religion around the globe. (Indians joke that the country's biggest export is people.) Sizeable Hindu populations live in the United Kingdom, Canada, the U.S., East Africa, and on the island of Bali in Indonesia. 

Unlike most religions, Hinduism has no identifiable founder or "starting point." The available evidence suggests it has developed out of one or more ancient indigenous religious systems in India, plus outside influences brought by invaders who called themselves Aryans, meaning "noble ones." They entered India from what is now Iran, about 1500 BC. Even within India, the religion exhibits tremendous variety. In some ways, the label Hinduism is a convenient Western term, now adopted by India itself, for the great variety of Indian religious expressions. Hinduism also gave birth to three additional religions: Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. 

Religious expression is influenced not only by the underlying belief system but also by the culture in which it develops. This is most clearly seen in comparing faiths that began in the Middle East (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha'i), which are all monotheistic, with those that began in India (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism), which are, with the exception of Sikhism, polytheistic or agnostic, and far more contemplative. With Sikhism again as the exception, the monotheistic faiths believe humans live once and are judged by God after death; the others believe in reincarnation, giving humans multiple tries to improve their spiritual condition. 

Hinduism is probably best known for its many gods and goddesses, represented by a huge variety of colorful statues, sometimes called idols. But this is just the surface of Hindu worship. The core beliefs that underlie all the various Hindu expressions are karma and reincarnation. 

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