A belief-system with a history stretching back some five thousand years, and practised today by approximately five hundred million people, mainly in India. This religious tradition is very diversified: there is no generally acknowledged single teacher or creed, and some commentators speak of the Hindu tradition embracing several religions, while not a few question whether the Western concept of religion is at all applicable in this context.
The distinctive features of Hindu religion (its vast complexity aside) are the caste system and the view of life referred to by the term samsara. Hindus think of their present life as merely one in a succession of lives, taking various forms, not all human and not all lived on this earth. This is linked to the concept of karma, which denotes a moral causation whereby what and where a person is today is largely a consequence of how he or she has conducted him- or herself in all of his or her past lives, especially in regard to dharma (or sacred law). Finally, the associated concept of moksha signifies emancipation from the bonds of present existence, to be attained through transcending avidya(ignorance) and maya (illusion). However, these basic ideas have not existed from the beginning of the tradition, and some scholars apply the term Hinduism only to the beliefs and practices which were established around the beginning of the Christian era.
The disparate nature of Hinduism is well illustrated in Hindu scripture, which includes the Vedas (knowledgeable texts written some two thousand years before the Christian era), a mixture of hymns to various Gods, philosophical texts, and prose dealing with rituals; and the enormously diverse smirti, which include the great Hindu epics, manuals and law-books, as well as popular stories and legends. Not surprisingly, no fewer than twelve schools are described as orthodox, including Sankhya dualism (which names no god), Sankara non-dualism (which embodies a qualified belief in god), and the theism of Ramanuja (which posits no belief in god). There are numerous well-established sectarian movements, such as the Jains and bhakti, who appeal for different reasons to different castes.
Sociological interest in Hindusim has mainly taken the form of studies of the caste system, as an extreme form of ascriptive stratification, and speculations about the likely consequences of Hindu beliefs for the development of rational capitalism of the Western type. The latter tradition was initiated by Max Weber's essays on the’Economic Ethics of the World Religions’ (1916-19, the relevant sections being translated as The Religion of India, 1958), which argue that Hinduism effectively blocked this form of economic development. The debate about Weber's interpretation continues today (see, for example,, Western Sociologists on Indian Society, 1979). The classic study of caste is Louis Dumont's Homo Hierarchicus (1970), although this makes the controversial claim that the Indian caste system cannot be analysed in terms of concepts applicable to other forms of social stratification , a claim that would seem to be undermined by anthropological and historical research demonstrating that social mobility processes of a kind familiar elsewhere (involving status usurpation resulting from status incongruities associated with shifts in the distribution of power) were also endemic in the traditional caste order.
The literatures on stratification and religion come together in the dispute about whether or not Weber's claim that a form of fatalism , arising out of the belief in the karma doctrine of compensation, was a major factor in stabilizing the caste system-despite its extreme inequalities of condition and social rigidity. This issue is pursued in’s essay on ‘Fatalism: Durkheim's Hidden Theory of Order’, in , Class and the Division of Labour (1983).

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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