A number of key volunteers and teaching facilitators from BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK (BAPS), undertook an impressive academic challenge over the weeks from October to December 2008. They enrolled on a module of Hindu Studies classes in London to learn about ‘Understanding Hindu Identity’.

The module is the first in a series which forms a certified Continuing Education programme developed and delivered by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS), a Recognised Independent Centre of Oxford University, in partnership with University of Wales, Lampeter.

Eight classes comprised the module, covering important topics such as: 1) Hinduism and the Hindu Identity; 2) Origins and Historical Development; 3) The Hindu Scriptures; 4) Hindu Religious Philosophy; 5) Hindu Religious Practice; 6) Hindu Society: Caste and Gender; 7) Modern Trends in Hinduism; and concluding with a summary and discussion.

The aim of the module was to provide BAPS volunteers a deeper and more nuanced understanding of their own faith while engaging in a wider discussion of what it means to be a Hindu in the UK in modern times.

As OCHS promised, the classes were friendly and academic, inspiring clear thinking, critical enquiry, and healthy discussion. Participants were continuously encouraged to explore and examine the very notion of Hindu identity.

The course was particularly successful because of the distinctive ethos underpinning the teaching and learning process. All three tutors – Dr Nick Sutton, Dr Rembert Lutjeharms and Anuradha Dooney – are not only academically qualified but finely sensitive to matters of faith.

Shaunaka Rishi Das, Director of OCHS, commended “BAPS’s vision in hosting this course.” “It is an excellent example,” he added, “of institutions working together to ensure our communities are investing in people who can represent the complexities of the Hindu traditions in ways that are meaningful to modern audiences, including Hindu youth.”

Dr Sutton, Head of the OCHS’s Continuing Education Department and a lecturer at Nottingham University, shared his appreciation and thoughts on the course by saying: “We found it both stimulating and rewarding to be able to work with members of the Swaminarayan community in these classes. Most of those who attended were very knowledgeable regarding the beliefs and practice of Hindu Dharma and were therefore able to make significant contributions to our class discussions. Hence I think the main value of the course was in providing a wider context that helped to locate an individual’s own religious experience within the wider framework of the Hindu tradition as whole.”

Feedback from the participants and other tutors was also overwhelmingly positive. Below are just a few of their comments:

“It was a privilege for me to teach such a gracious group of students enriched by so much personal knowledge and religious practice. The wealth of insight this brings to discussion is both enlivening and enlightening to me. …The enthusiasm for learning in the class clearly went beyond a need for academic credits alone. It reflected more a desire to deepen their own spiritual journey and ability to understand and represent the Swaminarayan tradition within a broader Hindu context.”
– Anuradha Dooney (Oxon), OCHS Course Tutor

“It was a great pleasure to work with dedicated Swaminarayan devotees…. The discussions were very stimulating, and the students’ openness was inspiring. I look forward to many more classes with them.”
– Dr Rembert Lutjeharms (Oxon), OCHS Course Tutor

“The tutors were all vibrant, down to earth, honest, friendly, open, respectful, and deeply knowledgeable.”
– Rakhee Shah, Podiatrist

“The course was great because it gathered many scattered topics in a succinct and structured way, providing a broad, more insightful appreciation of Hinduism.”
– Nirav Amin, Medical Student

“This was an amazing eye-opener, and has given me a good foundation to strive for a deeper understanding of Hinduism. The opportunity to approach and learn about Hinduism from an academic point of view was also very useful. This will help me in forming better relationships with members of the Hindu community.”
– Nimish Vatsa, IT Consultant

“This reinforced the basics and not only increased my breadth and depth of knowledge, it also made me think and refer back to our scriptures. Now I find it easier talking to and teaching youngsters.”
– Shamita Patel, Accountant

“I feel more confident about my own faith now and also more sensitive to people of other Hindu traditions.”
– Harshad Patel, Pharmacist

“My ability to understand, respect and appreciate others and their beliefs and principles has definitely grown after this course.”
– Kirit Wadia, Chartered Certified Accountant

“I feel much better equipped now to communicate what I believe to others, even non-Hindus.”
– Chirag Patel, Dentist

“This was very interesting and useful. It has allowed me to answer children’s questions and pass on what I have learnt to them.”
– Asha Soneji, Dentist

“I felt at ease in the class when I made comments and observations because I was in the company of people who were equally motivated to learn and appreciate Hinduism. Thank you for this opportunity. It was probably one of the best learning courses I’ve been on!”
– Girish Patel, Business Consultant

“The classes were well developed and led from one to the other in smooth progression. They could be heavy going at times because you need to concentrate and it is very thought-provoking, sometimes challenging, but it was always interesting. The presenters have a passion for the content and this comes across very well. Each had a different style and this made it even more interesting. The organisers and presenters are to be congratulated for an extremely well-run course.”
– Shailesh Pujara, Chartered Management Accountant

For further details about the OCHS Hindu Studies Course, click here.

To learn more about the OCHS’s work, vision and ethos, click here.

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