Recognising the interest of Indian American students in Hinduism, Rutgers University in New Jersey will start offering a broad-based programme to provide an overview of the oldest religion in the world.
Starting this summer, the University will provide six courses; these include undergraduate credit courses in Hinduism through its narrative tradition, Hindu rituals, festivals and symbols, Hindu philosophy and Hinduism and modernity.
Besides these, non-credit courses will be available in yoga and meditation, Hindu classics and folk dance.
"Very few institutions in the United States offer the kind of broad-based programme that Rutgers will begin offering this summer," said Dr. Michael Shafer, professor at Rutgers University and liaison to the summer programme on Hindu studies.
"Several universities host scholarly courses on Hinduism and some offer courses on Sanskrit but the Rutgers Summer Hindu Studies Programme is unique in that it covers a wide range of topics in a ten week period," he said.
Shafer added that while he expected a high level of interest from the estimated 5,000 students of Indian origin enrolled at Rutgers, such a programme on Hindu studies is likely to attract students and scholars from outside the Indian-American community as well, considering the growing interest in interfaith disciplines in New Jersey.
Himanshu P Shukla, chairman of the advisory committee for the Rutgers' Summer Hindu Studies Programme and one of its chief initiators, said the potential for the programme is evident from the number of undergraduates who could not be accommodated in the Hinduism course offered at Rutgers during the traditional school year.
Edwin Bryant, professor of Hinduism, department of religion, Rutgers University, says the summer programme on Hindu studies is a terrific idea.
"The world today is much more interconnected and I believe it is important to understand all major faiths. India has a very rich spiritual tradition. Millions of people wander around the country giving up everything in pursuit of spirituality. There is a whole subculture dedicated to spiritual pursuits that is worthy of attention," he said.
Bryant, who teaches Hinduism at Rutgers' department of religion spent several years in India in his early 20s in pursuit of spirituality.
"Hinduism is such a heterogeneous, variegated, and complex cluster of traditions, spanning over 5,000 years. It makes for fascinating study and the summer programme will provide students with exposure to some of its facets," he said.
A few years ago, Rutgers had conducted a pilot programme of summer studies on Judaism, which was very well received and prompted the university to launch a similar one on Hinduism as part of the university's commitment to the State's growing multicultural population.
"Rutgers was our first choice for the smmer programme on Hindu sudies for the simple reason that it is a public university and its summer studies are open to the entire community in New Jersey and in fact, persons throughout the country. Moreover, Rutgers sits in Middlesex County, home to a large Indian-American population," Shukla said.
"It is also the State University of New Jersey, the one sate in the uion where Indians are a real number," he said.
Administrators and faculty at Rutgers believe their university is a natural home for interfaith studies.
"Forty percent of New Jerseyans were either born in another country or have a parent who was born in another country. Rutgers is, therefore,very sensitive to the critical importance of providing a truly global education while at the same time continuing to be the educational golden door for the new generation of Americans," noted Shafer.
Rutgers has enlisted faculty including scholars and teachers of Hinduism from around the country to staff the five week programme on Hinduism which kicks off on July 9, 2007 and continues thrugh August 15, 2007.
The summer faculty includes Neelima Shukla-Bhatt, a Harvard Ph.D in Religion and Professor at Wellesley College, Dr Pankaj Jain, a Sanskrit scholar whose doctoral dissertation is on Ecology and Hinduism, and Dr Pallabi Chakravorty, Professor at Swarthmore College who is both an academic expert and performance artist.
Dr Chakravorty is developing the course on classical and folk dance, which will be offered as part of the summer programme.