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Is Hinduism monotheistic?

Professor Francis X. Clooney, OCHS
Professor Francis X. Clooney

Is Hinduism monotheistic? Does Hinduism have something in common with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam who all hold a strong belief in one God? How can a religion that seems teeming with various gods of colourful descriptions have a belief in one Supreme?

Our Academic Director, Professor Francis X. Clooney, organised a series of lectures and seminars this term to look at this topic from different perspectives, including Vaishnava, Shiva, and the Goddess traditions. He invited guest speakers for several of the sessions in order to hear experts on other religions like Judaism and Islam. When asked about the outcome, Professor Clooney replied that the lectures were successful in exploring the concept of monotheism in a thorough way.
He said, "When studying Indian religions many words of western and Christian origin are used, but do they really apply? Words like monotheism have been coined to describe Abrahamic religions and may not always be applicable in the Indian context. It is necessary to define monotheism since some religions define monotheism to include only people who believe in their God and scripture. The Islamic tradition, for example, interprets monotheism as the religion of those who believe in Allah as the one true God and Mohammed as His prophet. Others have a more inclusive approach and categorise everyone who wants to be a monotheist as a monotheist." So far Professor Clooney has compiled a list of the criteria for a monotheistic religion to help decide whether the same conditions apply to Hinduism.
These lectures are part of an on-going programme to explore the Hindu tradition and to examine it from different angles, inside and outside of the tradition. It is also an attempt to create a bridge between Hindu thinking and that in other traditions - such as the Semitic religions.
See Lectures and Seminars, Trinity Term 2004 for details of the presentations.