What were the main religions in India according to Bentley and Ziegler's Traditions & Encounters, and how did they interact?

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Bentley and Ziegler point out that the complexity of religious expression in India was able to coexist quite peacefully.  In stark contrast to the vision of religious and communal violence that seems to be present in parts of the subcontinent today, there was a sense of consensus that was understood despite religious differences. The presence of Islam and Hinduism in the subcontinent were the dominant religious expressions at the time. Accordingly, Bentley and Ziegler suggest that there was a convergence or meeting of religious traditions that enabled both to exist independently of one another, yet be adjacent to one another.  

Bentley and Ziegler point to several examples in which interactions between Muslim and Hindu faiths were tolerant and inclusive.  For example, the spread of Islam through the Sufi movement did not threaten Hinduism.  The Sufis preached a universal and transcendent vision of spiritual reality that embraced many tenets of Hinduism.  This is especially so in terms of the subjectively spiritual notion of the divine.  At the same time, the emergence of the Bhakti movement stressed a form of universal salvation and paralleled the inclusivity of the Sufi movement.  These aspects help to show how complex religious practices in both Hinduism and Islam enabled both religions to prosper and grow in India without seeking domination over one another.  Individuals such as Guru Kabir were critical in helping this coexistence.  Guru Kabir took to preaching and emphasizing the idea that Hindu Deities and Islamic construction of the Divine were one in the same, echoing the same element of spiritual identity.  Bentley and Ziegler suggest that the Indian subcontinent's main religions of Hinduism and Islam were able to find many points of convergence and coexistence, helping to develop a consensus- based interaction.

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After examining the complex religious world of India in Bentley and Ziegler's Traditions & Encounters, was there an attempt to bring the various branches of beliefs together? 

If we read through Chapter 13 of the Brief Second Edition of Traditions & Encounters (the chapter entitled “India and the Indian Ocean Basin”), we can see that there were various attempts to bring the faiths of Islam and Hinduism together.  Some were informal while at least one was much more formal.

On the informal level, Bentley and Ziegler say that there were rulers who tried to allow Islam and Hinduism to coexist peacefully.  They say (p. 258) that

Ruling elites who converted to Islam often continued to honor Hindu, Buddhist, or native southeast Asian traditions.

The authors argue that these elites wanted to make sure that all of their subjects could coexist peacefully and that they, themselves, could get along with Muslim foreigners.  They were trying to bring the various branches of belief together simply because that was convenient for them and for their ability to rule effectively.

A second force for unification was the Sufi movement.  The Sufis did not literally try to synthesize Islam and Hinduism.  However, they did allow their followers to continue to observe practices from other religions.  In this way, they effectively allowed for some sort of synthesis to arise.

By contrast, the bhakti movement did try to pull Hinduism and Islam together.  The bhakti movement was originally a Hindu movement, but it came into contact with Islam and was attracted to some Islamic values.  It eventually started to explicitly try to connect the two religions.  For example, it tried to present Shiva, Vishnu, and Allah as “manifestations of a single, universal deity” (p. 254). 

Thus, there were attempts, both formal and informal, to bring the various branches of religious belief in India together.

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