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‘Twisting the Wrist’: Teaching South Asian Religions in the Contemporary Academy

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Abstract

Research into South Asian religious traditions has developed rapidly over the past two decades or so, contributing to and reflecting both a critical reflexive turn in the discipline of Religious Studies, and the growing influence of Postcolonial theory in the Humanities and Social Sciences. In this article, we explore the implications of these developments for teaching about South Asian religious traditions in the contemporary academy. We argue that a particular challenge is presented by the persistent influence of the world religions paradigm in Higher Education teaching environments, notwithstanding the emergence of new research agendas. We review the approach taken towards concepts of ‘religion’ and ‘religions’ in a series of recently published volumes directed at students of South Asian religious traditions, and ask how these approaches are reflected in the organisation and pedagogic concerns of these volumes. We then go on to suggest particular strategies for approaching teaching about South Asian religious traditions, emphasising the importance of multiple ways of contextualising data, and encouraging critical reflection on this multiplicity. We use the metaphor of the kaleidoscope to explain this approach, encouraging students to ‘twist the wrist’ in order to view case studies in different contexts, and so build up nuanced, critically aware pictures of the diverse traditions they are studying.

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