A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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Representation of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity in A Passage to India

Summary:

In A Passage to India, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity are represented through their respective characters and cultural interactions. Hinduism is depicted as inclusive and spiritual, primarily through Professor Godbole. Islam, represented by Dr. Aziz, emphasizes community and tradition. Christianity, embodied by the British colonialists, often appears rigid and imposing, highlighting the cultural and religious tensions in colonial India.

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How is Hinduism represented in A Passage to India?

I think that this becomes one of the most challenging elements in Forster's work.  Part of where the difficulty lies is in trying to figure out whether or not Forster is depicting Hinduism in a true and valid light or whether he is presenting it in a manner that reflects cultural biases of the time.  In this light, Hinduism's depiction is only offered in so far that it serves as a foil to Western Judeo-Christian values of the British.  I think that there can be a couple of elements that can be parsed about the depiction of Hinduism in the novel.  The first would be that Hinduism is a part of the culture clash that is at the heart of both the novel and British rule in India.  The values espoused in Hinduism do form a level of differentiation between both the British and the Indians who believe in Hinduism.  Of particular note is the ambiguity within which Hinduism operates, starkly contrasted with the supposed absolutes of British values and Christian identity.  Godbole becomes the central representation of Hinduism.  His depiction is one where there are tenets of Hinduism definitely presented in a manner that is consistent with the religion, such as the participation in the Krishna rebirth ceremony as well as Godbole's belief about reincarnation and consciousness.  However, given the fact that Godbole presents the only real depiction of Hinduism in the novel, it becomes challenging to place all of the nuances of the religion on his shoulders as a character.  The fact that Forster does not really display another Hindu character in detail might suggest a limitation in the depiction of Hinduism in the novel.

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Comment on the representation of Hinduism in A Passage to India.

I believe that of the three religions represented in this book (Islam, Christianity, Hindusim), Hindusim is the most positive. Hinduism is the main religion in India. Hinduism is very big on freedom of beliefs which, in this novel, results in the view that people should accept things as they are and not try to hard to change things. Since Hinduism accepts all beliefs, there is more unity among peoples in this religion and E. M. Forster seems to imply in this novel that this is a preferable religion to all others because it unites people and does not separate them. Professor Godbole is the representative of Hinduism in this novel and of all the other characters, he rises above the petty disputes that separate the characters based on culture and religion. I believe that Forster meant to show that Hindusim represents the heart of India.

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Comment on the representation of Hinduism in A Passage to India.

On many levels, Forster's depiction of Hinduism and its values are to be seen through the prism of vast difference that its Western counterparts.  This is seen in how Forster depicts Professor Godbole.  Through this character, Hinduism is seen as "accepting" and a type of religious structure where there is total openness and one whose structure is vastly different than its Western contemporary.  The idea of the sound emanating from the caves, "BOUM," helps to accent this.  Such a depiction of Hinduism was unique for its time, in that the book did not show the religion to be something of a savage and indigenous nature.  Yet, its depiction might have actually contributed to its classification of a religion where "anything goes."  This certainly might not have been the intent of Forster in doing so, but his depiction, especially when seen in stark contrast to religions of the West, represents one where individuals come to understand Hinduism as nothing more than a set of values where "everything is accepted."  This overall, and limited view of acceptance, is combined with a depiction that Hinduism is mystical and beyond the reach of the individual, as seen again with Godbole.  While this might be true, it contributes to the idea that Hinduism is perceived to be a value system where there is little in way of tradition and dictum.

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How are Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity presented in A Passage to India?

Forster presents all followers of religion as capable of being more inclusive in A Passage to India.  

Forster shows that the people who practiced the dominant religions in India focused on exclusion. He address this in his metaphor of the wasp and how some creatures "had" to be excluded.  Forster uses this to describe followers of all religions in India.  Forster suggests that all followers of religions have to "be more" by including everyone.  Forster uses nature as a symbol to communicate this inclusion:

The sky settles everything—not only climates and seasons, but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little—only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous.

"The sky settles everything" is an important idea when looking at how Forster shows religion.  He sees that each religion wishes to include.  However, it is the people who "believe" in these religions that are doing the excluding.  For example, Forster sees Christianity as inclusive.  However, the British who embrace it use it to silence other people, namely indigenous individuals.  Hinduism and Islam both preach tolerance, but followers of each use it to separate themselves from one another. Forster sees religion as part of the natural world.  The problem becomes the people who use religion to exclude others.  

At the end of the novel, Fielding and Aziz are divided by the paths that diverge.  This might be a good symbol to describe Forster's view of religion.  It is the natural world that encompasses us.  Religion is like "the sky" that embraces everyone.  However, the people who use it to support their own power or keep others out of it are like the path that diverges and separates people.  Forster suggests the followers of the three major religions as needing to be more truthful to their spirituality in accepting more people.

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