Future of Hinduism
A Rich and Strange Metamorphosis: Glocal Hinduism
By Loriliai Biernacki
As we move into the 21st century, with a shrinking world, an entangled economy, and instantaneous communications with the other side of the planet, religious life is changing as well. Religious groups are able to meet the needs of adherents far away and minister to communities separated spatially from each other. For Hinduism, this has meant especially that a diasporic community has been able to reconnect with its roots far away. An engineer living in Denver, Colorado in the U.S. can offer a puja online at the famous temple for Venkateshwara and receive his or her prasad by mail from the temple in Tirupati. Hinduism is becoming global.
As a religion, historically Hinduism has been very much about place. Different deities are associated with different places lending traditional Hinduism a flavor of the local. As this shifts via a new internet interconnectivity, the local will move more toward the "glocal," a kind of proliferation of particularities, particular Gods, particular practices among communities that might have not ever had any access to these new, imported Hindu perceptions -- and at least for the West, beckoning a rich and strange metamorphosis. What this means for the future of Hinduism is a coming variety of permutations, only loosely aligned under the rubric of "Hinduism" -- which itself as a religious tradition, both in terms of the word "Hinduism" and of the practices associated with this word, has been for some decades understood to function as indeed a kind of generalized rubric, a placeholder for a somewhat diverse set of traditions associated with different saintly or charismatic figures and different deities. In this sense Hinduism is spreading and will continue to spread in the future all over the globe. However, it will spread in a way that leaves behind the proper name, the box that classifies it as "Hinduism" per se.
The careful cultural observer will recognize the traces Hinduism leaves. For instance, one can see this happening already with the phenomenon of yoga. Yoga is becoming increasingly a worldwide practice, no doubt particularized by a variety of modifications, as Raja Yoga, the Bihar School of Yoga, Iyengar yoga, Astanga yoga, with Indian-American cross-overs like Bikram's "hot yoga," and again, with more hybridized American variations such as Forrest Yoga, TriYoga, and Anusara Yoga. The roots of yoga are clearly Hindu, yet as it makes its way across the globe, its roots are obscured. It is becoming a pan-global phenomenon.
Likewise Hinduism's philosophical underpinnings -- the ideas of karma and rebirth, notably -- are increasingly pervading American consciousness, and this spread of ideas will increase in the future. As a case in point, a few months ago I chanced upon Lisa Miller's column in the widely read magazine Newsweek, where she opines that Americans are becoming Hindus ideologically. She tells us that an astounding number of Americans now believe in reincarnation. This conceptual, indeed cosmological, importation from Hinduism is seeping indelibly into the American psyche. Even a percentage of self-identified Christians have little difficulty incorporating this Hindu notion. Similarly, the word and concept of "karma" is so commonly parlayed in everyday conversation that its Hindu origins no longer even register, as the concept finds its way across wide ranges of socio-economic circles and in all sorts of milieus.