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Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson discusses Hinduism from a historical and religious standpoint, with emphasis on its distinctive characteristics in general and its religious practices in general.

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Source: Music by Vladiswar Nadishana, Creative Commons,

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Hello. Welcome to this tutorial on Hinduism.

Hinduism is often considered one of the oldest living religions. The word Hindu itself can be traced back thousands of years to the Sanskrit word shindu, which refers to the river system in northwest India.

Sanskrit is the ancient language of Hindu, and it is no longer spoken. The sacred texts of Hinduism are collectively known as the Veda, and they were written in Sanskrit.

The other sacred texts or scriptures in Hinduism are known as the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, among others. These scriptures are categorized according to the formal role they play as revealed texts, or as what is remembered. The Sanskrit terms for these are sruti, which means revealed, or literally what is heard, and smriti, meaning recollected or remembered.

The foundational sruti text is the Veda, a Sanskrit word which means knowledge. It contains four primary scriptures. And the major part of the Veda are the Upanishads, which are also called "end of the Vedas" or the Vedanta.

And while many Hindus might be somewhat familiar with these formal, theoretical, philosophical texts, almost all Hindus have ready access to the smriti, or the remembered texts, which include many popular stories and long epic poems.

The most well-known are the Mahabharata, which contains the Bhagavad Gita, and the story of Ramayana. All of these contain many volumes and explore all religious and spiritual questions under the sun, and then some.

Hindu art is a major element of these stories. And I think it might offer you a quick impression of Hinduism's vast beauty and inspiration.

The scriptures and stories, which are often acted out during celebrations, help guide one along the way of the Dharma. This is a Sanskrit term which refers to the natural law and order that sustains all being.

As a way of being in the world, it means duty, morality, and virtue. A central element of Hinduism is a belief in the law of Karma, or action, something which governs the cycle of birth, life, and death. It's a cycle that's called Samsara in Sanskrit, and the hope is to break free of this perpetual reincarnation. And ultimate release from this cycle of suffering and reincarnation is called Moksha.

Therefore one must follow the Dharma, always being attentive to the laws of Karma.

In Hinduism there is no transcendent god, no one transcendent god who is worshipped in Hinduism. Instead there is a supreme transcendent power who is often, usually, identified as Brahman. And there are many manifestations of this universal force, many gods, more personal, which have particular purposes in Hindu life.

A Hindu is guided by his or her understanding and worship of the gods, all believed to be different personalities and manifestations of one universal essence, divine and supreme Brahman consciousness.

Accordingly there are four divisions within Hinduism. The first one is called Shaivism, and it refers to Hindus who worship the god Shiva as both immanent and transcendent.

And then the second group is called Vaishnavism, and it refers to Hindus who worship Vishnu and his other forms, Krishna and Rama.

And then the third group is called Shaktism, and it refers to those who worship Shakti, the divine mother, and all her forms.

And Smartism as the final one. And Smartism refers to Hindus who worship any or all of six different gods, unified though distinct, unified under the more impersonal and absolute spirit of Brahman, universal being.

So Hinduism might seem like a polytheistic religion, and in fact it has its own blend of polytheistic and monotheistic tendencies. But as we've seen, Hindus approach divinity in a variety of ways. So scholars have applied the term Henotheism, which suggests that one principal god is venerated, while others might also be regarded as manifestations or potentialities within the rich field of Hindu deities.

So now we can review Hinduism. Hinduism really doesn't have a founder like some of the other religions. So we used some Sanskrit terms to help us understand the religious orientation of Hindu.

Many gods are venerated and worshipped in Hinduism. Yet we couldn't identify it as a polytheistic nor a monotheistic religion, but rather a Henotheistic religion, which generally is understood as worshipping one god and also recognizing the importance of other manifestations, other gods, that play a role in this process of seeking release from Samsara, the cycle of reincarnation and suffering, which is one of the ultimate goals of a Hindu.

And there are many tools for that. The sacred texts that we identified are a primary tool, and also the remembered stories. We mentioned a couple of those. We identified Brahman as the universal principle that most Hindus regard as the supreme intelligence and consciousness that informs and participates in the manifestation of all of the other gods.

Notes on “Hinduism”



Image of Krishna and Arjun, Public Domain (copyright expired),,_Mahabharata,_18th-19th_century,_India.jpg
Image of Kurukshetra, Public Domain,
Image of Disrobing of Draupadi, Public Domain (copyright expired)
Image of Razmnama Bhishma, Public Domain (copyright expired),

Terms to Know

A religion in which one god is venerated while others are recognized as either actual or potential deities.


Any text or groups of texts held to be sacred and/or divinely inspired.