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A centre of Indian learning in Oxford

Nivedita Choudhari, Dec 6, 2012

HINDU STUDIES

The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies has students from all over the world, has hosted more than 900 lectures, and engaged in collaborative research with a number of Indian universities, writes Nivedita Choudhari.

It has students from all over the world, including the UK, India, USA, Australia, Croatia, Switzerland, China, Germany, France, Italy, Russia and Singapore. 

It has an excellent library containing more than 20,000 titles, and publishes with Routledge the Hindu Studies Series, the only series of its kind. It has hosted more than 900 lectures and engaged in collaborative research with Jadavpur University (Kolkata), MS University (Baroda), the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Aarhus University (Denmark). That’s the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS) in a nutshell for you.

The OCHS is an academy for the study of Hindu culture, society, philosophies, and languages, in all periods and in all parts of the world. Situated in Oxford, the city of the gleaming spires, it is dedicated to preserving India’s cultural heritage and promoting a better understanding of it through a comprehensive programme of education, publishing, and research.

The OCHS was founded in 1997 and it is a Recognised Independent Centre of Oxford University. All students of the OCHS are members of Oxford colleges and studying for degrees in theology, oriental studies, history and anthropology. The Centre has been inviting scholars to deliver lectures and tutorials at Oxford University since 1998.


The OCHS brings together the best lecturers, scholars, and students, involving them in tutelage, research, conferences, and publishing. It links them with Oxford University’s art collections, archives, and libraries including the largest collection of Sanskrit manuscripts found outside India. Oxford’s intellectual range and depth across all disciplines gives the widest possible context to any field of study and provides an ongoing challenge to achieve the highest standards of excellence.

The OCHS research programme supports well-defined research in all areas in the study of Hindu culture. OCHS research, broadly, falls under four key streams: Hinduism and modernity; Classical Hinduism; Religious dialogue and interface; and Historical perspective on Hindu cultures. Current research focusses on Bengali Vaishnavism in the Modern Period, the Bhagavata Purana and Shakta Traditions.

Some of the community research projects included the British Hinduism Oral History Project whereby the experiences of 300 first generation Hindus who had settled in Britain were recorded, transcribed, given a web presence, and archived. This three-year project was launched at the Indian High Commission, London, in 2001.

The Hindu Youth Research Project, conducted in 2001, was the first survey of its kind in the UK. The findings of this project have served in making the concerns and experiences of young British Hindus known to the government, media and the public.

Since 2003, the OCHS Continuing Education Department (CED) has facilitated access to Hindu Studies for adults all over the UK, and online for a more international audience. There are online courses on Understanding Hindu Identity, the Philosophy of Yoga, Bhagvad Gita, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Puranas, Vedas and the Upanishads.

The objective, of the online courses, is twofold. Firstly, they provide a high degree of factual knowledge about the belief systems and religious practices embodied in Hindu culture. Secondly, they utilise this basis to encourage examination of the very notion of Hindu identity. Students are thus invited to use the detailed knowledge they acquire as a means of exploring the essential meaning of the Hindu life as practised worldwide.

The OCHS brings the voice of Indian culture to the market-place of ideas. Faculty and students are encouraged to bring thoughtful responses to issues of contemporary concern. The Centre has become a trusted voice to public and private sector bodies including the BBC.

The OCHS has hosted a number of conferences and symposia. These gatherings have dealt with a wide range of topics including, the idea of desire, women in Hinduism, philosophy, archaeology, temple art and architecture, and Shakta.

The OCHS is also involved in various projects such as the Bhumi Project, which is a response to the environmental issues facing the planet. The initiative was facilitated by the OCHS in partnership with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), and backed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In 2008, the UNDP and ARC announced that they would partner in a programme to involve major traditions in the world’s faiths for drawing up generational plans of action for protecting our planet. The aim was to take the next seven, eight, or nine years to embed practices and protocols into the way major faiths conduct their education, building programmes, celebrations and energy sourcing.

In April 2009, a meeting was held at the OCHS bringing together representatives of the four largest Hindu temple communities in the UK, the UK’s first state-funded Hindu School, and ARC.

Inspired by ARC and facilitated by the OCHS, the meeting conceived the Bhumi Project, an initiative aimed at educating, inspiring, informing, and connecting Hindus interested in service to Mother Earth. The project was officially launched in November 2009 and its goals are to educate, inspire, inform, and connect Hindus interested in service to Mother Earth, to develop long term sustainable plans beginning with a nine-year time-frame and to build a base of global partners and friends who encourage best environmental practice.

The OCHS always seeks partnerships with academic publishers with an aim to produce scholarly writing on Hinduism, particularly by OCHS students and faculty. Besides the partnership with Routledge, OCHS is also in partnership with the Oxford University Press.

They publish the Journal of Hindu Studies — a bi-annual academic journal which takes a critical approach to Hindu Studies. The journal creates a forum for constructive interdisciplinary discourse by linking scholars in an exploration of key questions and issues.
 

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