Symbiosis International University Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts

Religion and Rebellion


Are religions necessarily on the side of conformity and of oppression? Is it possible for religious ideas, philosophies and practices to inspire critical examination of oppressive political, social and ecological institutions and behaviour?

This course proposes to help students explore the potential for thought and action and modes of being that are critical of abuses of power, oppressive and exclusionary ways in a way that

  • Links religious socio-political ethics to onto-metaphysical principles/ ideas
  • Emphasizes the challenge religion poses not merely to the externalized targets of political critique and resistance but to internal/inner impulses that people our psyches
  • Looking at ideas and practices, both texts and prominent figures which express such a potential
  • From across a spectrum of religions and significant representative periods/moments in their history (ancient, modern/contemporary) at all points within a comparative framework of exploring the dominant ethics that emerged from the European enlightenment

 Course Objectives 

  • To enable students to go re-examine stereotypes about particular religions and about religion itself, so that
  • They have access to the rich fund of ideas and experiences available within religious systems
  • To help students sort out their thinking about ethics and arrive at a working understanding of options other than unexamined relativism
  • To clarify issues surrounding contemporary events and their representations, especially in the mass media
  • To equip students with skills in analysis and argumentation

 Teaching Methodology 

  • Reading of excerpts from primary and secondary texts from within the religious traditions combined with Readings from non-practising scholars to expand students' horizons in their understanding of political, social ethics
  • Encourage students to go beyond stereotyping of particular religions and Religion in general , through independent research on topics of interest
  • Examination of media stereotypes
  • Lectures on ideas and concepts as well as interactive sessions
  • Organized debates on specific aspects of the topics
  • Counterarguments examined at relevant points
  • Religious art, music, ritual, symbols will also be studied using appropriate media

 Course Outline 

1) Common Conceptions/misconceptions of Religion
Explore reasons: role of mass media
Is religion intrinsically oppressive, repressive, divisive?
2) Religious figures and ideas that have challenged injustice, oppressive/divisive attitudes and policies
3) Relationship between religious ethics and ontology/metaphysics. Is there a critical core in the heart of religions? Compare with humanistic ethics
4) Religion and Power
5) Towards an explanation of seeming contradictions
6) Major themes, areas and problems under discussion
Politics (ruler and the ruled)
Society (Class, caste, gender)
Ecology: brief overview Modern secular, humanistic approaches
Contemporary trends: Contemporary religions and activism

Ancient Roots of critical ideas and practices - the great synthesis
Ontology, metaphysics - Vedanta
The relevance of Sruti/Smriti distinction
Interpretations: how do we know what is right? What guidance do religions provide?
Issues: Caste, Gender, War and Peace, Ecology
Evidence from the Scriptures: Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Epics, Puranas
Inner and Outer dimension
Medieval Extensions of Critical - The Bhakti movement
Colonialism and Modernity
Critical Responses from Religions
Mahatma Gandhi
Politics: Swaraj, Ahimsa
Economy, Ecology: Critique of Western
Contemporary movements:
Discussion of Savarkar and contemporary contestations

Ancient basis
Basis of ethics in Buddhist ontology, metaphysics
Dependent origination
Prajna – Karuna
Philosophical schools and their interpretations
Mahayana concepts
Politics ancient rulers
Ecology: Buddha Nature
Modern, contemporary practitioners
In Buddhist societies, in the contemporary West
Discussion of Buddhist nationalism (Burma, Sri Lanka)
Discussion: compare with secular humanist thought

Onto-metaphysical basis of Christian politics, social ethics
Ten Commandments (O.T.)
Two Commandments (N.T.)
Sermon on the Mount
Render unto Caesar
Kingdom not of this world
Augustine: City of God
Christianity and Empire
Evaluation of the Crusades
Holy Poverty
Brother Sun, Sister Moon: St. Francis
Protestantism: liberatory implications, relation to modernity
Eastern Christianity, sacredness of earth
Modern/contemporary trends
Liberation Theology
Megachurches, televangelism
Discussion: Secular Humanism and Christian approaches
Christianity and the potential for ecological regeneration: Pope Francis

Metaphysical Basis of Islamic political, social, ecological Ethics
Free will
Five Pillars - their implications
The Shariah: enabling framework for ethical action or repressive and restraining
The Sunnah
The ruler and the ruled
Justice and Mercy
Islamic Feminism
Is the Islamic state and “impossible state?”
In the light of Sufism

Native American/Pre-Columbian America
Politics, Ecology
Sub-Saharan Africa
Metaphysical – Cosmological ideas

Concluding discussion
Towards an evaluation of contesting, conflicting claims about the Relationship between Religion and Power, Religion and Politics, etc.