Courses at the Mira and Ajay Shingal Center for Dharma Studies

The Graduate Theological Union, through the Mira and Ajay Shingal Center for Dharma Studies and in cooperation with several GTU member schools, offers introductory and advanced courses in Hindu theology, ethics, philosophy, culture, arts, Diaspora, and religious practice. The following list consists of courses within the GTU consortium. Courses at the University of California, Berkeley, are also available to students at GTU’s Center for Dharma Studies.


Fall 2016 Courses


Instructor: Rita Sherma

HRST-2051: Hermeneutics: Hindu Critiques
This course traces the development of modern and post-modern European philosophical hermeneutics particularly in terms of its application to Indian religions, the critiques and challenges to conventional hermeneutics by postcolonial thinkers of the global south in light of the contemporary discourse on problems in translation, cultural neo-colonialism, and the need to explore the thought traditions of the submerged cultures. The wide ranging traditions of Hindu epistemological and hermeneutical models will be examined.
Time: Thursday 2.10 pm-5.00 pm.
Location: Pacific School of Religion, MUDD Building Room 102, Berkeley CA 94709


HRST-4505: Intro to Hindu Theology
This course will survey the foundational texts, traditions, and teachings of the Hindu theological world as a variegated network of principles & practices towards an interrelated teleological vision. We will explore the place of sound and symbols, of intensity and imagination, for spiritual formation, liturgical experience, and theological expression. The course will prepare students to identify the theological frameworks that cut across Hindu denominations & understand the distinct viewpoints that render them unique.
Time: Thursday 6.10 pm-9.00 pm.
Location: Pacific School of Religion, MUDD Building Room 103, Berkeley CA 94709


Instructor: Saraswati

PTBS -5100: Hindu Theology of Oneness
This course will examine the vision of “Oneness” expounded in the ancient sacred texts called Upanishads that form part of the revealed scripture in Hinduism. An in-depth understanding of the vision of non-duality, especially as it pertains to the pedagogy of self-knowledge, and its relationship to the concept of bondage and liberation will be studied.
Time: Thursday 9:40am-12.30am.
Location: Pacific School of Religion, MUDD Building Room 205, Berkeley CA 94709


Instructor: Purushotamma Bilimoria

PHCE-2501:Jaina Philosophy & Ethics
The course offers an exploration of the philosophy underpinning the ethics, theology, and ecology of the Jaina Dharma tradition. We take an evolving history of ideas approach to the thinking that have guided developments within Jaina worldview - in metaphysics, cosmology, bio-ecology and moral philosophy. The ecological significance (and impact) of Jainism with its reverence for all individual life forms that spread across the elemental, microbial, plant, and animal realms will be studied closely. Students will become familiar with classical and contemporary Jaina texts and teachings, such as of Mahavira, Umasvati, and Raichandra - who was one of Gandhi's teachers.
Time: Tuesday 2.10 pm-5.00 pm.
Location: Pacific School of Religion, MUDD Building Room 102, Berkeley CA 94709


HRBS-1900: Introductory Sanskrit
Some knowledge of Sanskrit is important for students interested in deepening their understanding of Indian (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain) religious, philosophical, theological, literary and aesthetic textual cultures. Sanskrit has both ancient and classical roots - from the Rg-veda (c. 1500 BCE) to the Grammarians, Upanishads, the Darsana, the Epics, Poetics, Bhakti and Tantric literature. This course will provide an introduction to Sanskrit grammar, philology and basic vocabulary, enabling students to manage elementary Sanskrit language.
Time: Monday 12.40 pm-3.30 pm.
Location: Graduate Theological Union, HDCO, Berkeley CA 94709


Instructors: Purushottama Bilimoria & Thomas Cattoi

ST-4042: Christianity & Dharma Religions
This lecture/seminar course will introduce students to the ongoing dialogue between Christianity and the religions of India, focusing on Hinduism and Jainism, but also the multifaceted reality of Indian Christianity. Students will explore a number of important themes developed by these different religions through the concurrent reading of foundational texts from the Christian, Hindu and Jain traditions. The class will also explore the fundamental principles of inter-religious dialogue and comparative theology and encourage students to develop their own theology of religions.
Time: Wednesday 6.10 pm-9.00 pm.
Location: Jesuit School of Theology, Room 216, Berkeley CA 94709


Spring 2016

Hindu Philosophy and Ethics
Course Number: PHCE-4100
Instructor: P. Bilimoria (CDS/GTU)
Location and Time: MUDD: 102   T 02:10PM - 05:00PM      

The course offers an exploration of the philosophical underpinning of ethics, theology, and ecology of the Hindu tradition. It takes an evolving history of ideas approach with an eye to the reasoned thinking that have guided the metaphysical and moral trends in Hindu thought. Students will delve deeply into texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, the Mahabharata, and the thinking of leading Hindu intellectuals and theologians, such as Shankara, Ramanuja and modern intellectuals such as Gandhi. Among the key Hindu concepts to be examined are: the nature of the self, of the ultimate, origins of the universe, laws of natural order, karma and dharma, moral governance and Hindu law, kingdom of ends, care of self and other and of nature, the highest good, aesthetics, life-cycle rites, death and afterlife (or rebirth), and the paths to self-realization. The comparative appraisal will draw on dialogical analogues and contemporary secular cultural exchanges, with transformations in the Hindu diaspora.


God the Mother in Hinduism
The Divine Feminine: Embodied Enlightenment

Course Number: HRST-4600
Instructor: Rita Sherma (CDS/GTU)
Location and Time: MUDD 102    M 06:10 PM - 09:00 PM

The theological tradition of God the Mother (the Divine Feminine as Transcendent & Immanent) has a 2,500 year history in the world of Hindu spirituality. The tradition of God the Mother (Mahadevi/Shakti) offers a theological visions that integrates world engagement and embodied enlightenment, the feminine and masculine principles, life and liberation, dynamic creativity and contemplative tranquility, and the intuitive and empirical dimensions of experience. The course will explore the mystical narratives, sacred texts, theology, contemplative praxis, ritual art, and theories of consciousness and subtle energy associated with the theology of the Divine Feminine. The course is appropriate for MA/MTS & PhD/ThD (additional research), & will require a quiz, reflections papers, & a term paper. We will visit religious centers offering the traditional rituals, and teachings of this rare theological path of God the Mother, which still remains extant as a major branch of Hindu spiritual life. 


Radical Nonviolence: Jainism
Course Number:
Instructor: P. Bilimoria (CDS/GTU)
Location and Time: MUDD: 102   F 12:40PM-03:30PM

The course traces the development of non-violence from the early theological teachings and practices of non-harming (Ahimsa) prevalent among certain ascetic groups and texts in ancient India, to its systematic doctrinal expression in Jainism and to its modern and contemporary adoption as a socially engaged strategy for justice. While Hindu and Buddhist Dharma traditions hold non-harming as a foundational principle, the Jain iteration refines and expands the reach of a radical deep-roots virtue of non-injury in the Dharma traditions. The course will explore the ethical implications of the Jain principles of Ahimsa, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possessiveness. The course will examine Jainism's ontology of infinite souls and respect for sentience, the constituents of reality, karma, and cosmology. We will study the foundational Jain principle of Ahimsa (absolute non-violence) in relation to other supporting principles such as the doctrine of Pluralism (Anekantavada, multiplicity of viewpoints); and the principle of Conditioned Predication (Syadvada, Creative Relativism). There will be further exploration of contemporary interests in the use of nonviolence: e.g. the Civil Rights struggle in the US and Acharya Tulsi's Jain reformist movement.


Hindu Yoga beyond the Mat:
Theology, Ethics, & Healing
Course Number: HRST 4610
Instructor: Rita Sherma
Location and Time: JSTB: 217   TH 06:10 PM - 09:00 PM

Yoga is practiced globally with extensive branches in the West. Interpretations & adaptations of Yoga today are almost exclusively associated with fitness & wellness in the popular imagination. Yet, Yoga includes but surpasses physical wellness. With millennia-old roots in Hindu spirituality, Yoga has traditionally represented major paths, often used in collaboration, meant to lead the practitioner to an integrated experience of enlightenment, & fulfillment of human potential defined differently by diverse Yoga traditions. We will study major traditions of Hindu Yoga: the paths of knowledge, wisdom, love, and selfless service, and explore the yogic journey through its literature, philosophy, ethics, and ritual arts. We will also examine contemporary medical research on Yoga. This course is appropriate for MA/MTS & PhD/ThD (additional research), & will require reflections papers, and a research paper.


Fall 2015

Introduction to Hinduism
Course Number: HRST 1100
Instructor: Rita Sherma
Location and Time: JSTB: 216 T 06:10 PM - 09:00 PM

This course will introduce Hinduism, the world's third largest faith with about a billion adherents, and a five-thousand-year history in a way that is accessible to MA and MDiv students who are interested in a multi-disciplinary study of the Hindu world. We will explore the Hindu experience of the sacred through a theological lens with particular attention to principal doctrines, ethics, and elements of praxis. The theological significance of sacred art, ritual, symbol-systems, music, dance, and contemplative practice will be examined through audio-visual presentations and visits to Hindu places of worship. The course will use a lecture & discussion format. Requirements include reflection papers on readings, one book review, and a seminar paper.


The Hindu Vision of God
Course Number: HRST 4050
Instructor: Swamini Sarasvati
Location and Time: MUDD: 205 M/TH 11:10 AM - 12:30 PM


In the Hindu vision, the personal God is the immanent aspect of the transcendent and limitless reality known as Brahman. This theological viewpoint is known as Vedanta and occurs at the end of a canonical body of ancient scriptures known as Veda. It speaks directly to the notion of human suffering and bondage, one’s quest to be free and limitless, unencumbered by self-inadequacy. Vedanta suggests that the Divine is limitlessly whole, eternal, unchanging, and the source and substratum of what we experience as the ever-changing world of physical reality. Knowledge of the omnipresence of Brahman is central to liberation from saṃsara, from the relentless striving to “become” whole and free. This course will focus on Vedanta’s resolution of the alienation between the individual and the whole by expounding the connections that pervade all phenomena by examining selections from the original Vedanta texts, the Upaniṣads, and salient verses from the Bhagavad Gītā to understand how the Hindu vision of God approaches universal human problems that arise due to self-ignorance, and consequent misunderstandings about the nature of reality itself. Term papers and introspective essays will assess critical thought and understanding. This course is appropriate for MA, MDiv, and PhD students and does not require prior knowledge of Hinduism.


The Self & “I” in Indic Thought
Course Number: HRPT 2000
Instructor: Purushottama Bilimoria
Location and Time: PSR: 6 T/F 12:40 PM - 02:00 PM

"Who am I?" Is there a singular idea of the self in the Indian tradition? There appears from its history and literature (theology, philosophy to anthropology) to be a variety of competing ideas on the nature of the self, and the related question of personal identity, that the tradition has had to deal with, challenged to bring them together under a unitary conception. Not until the emergence of the conception of Atman – as Transcendental Self - with the Upanishads (or Vedanta) that a stable unitary metaphysics is settled upon. But this view at the same time creates problem for the mundane experiential self, its consciousness and identity: who or what is the "I" in our waking life? This course draws on hermeneutical reading of Indic textual traditions, from ancient, classical, epic-medieval to modern discourses on self, no-self, non-self, selflessness, personal identity, self as Divine, Atman as Brahman, in the Hindu tradition. The horizons of the self as a moral individual in relation to community and the world will also be examined with comparative attention to other traditions and contemporary critiques of the nature of the self. Evaluation methods will include research papers. The course is appropriate for MDiv, MA/MTS, as well as doctoral students with additional research.


Ecology and World Religions

Course Number: HRIR 4000
Instructor: Rita Sherma
Location and Time: MUDD:205 TH 06:10 PM - 09:00 PM

This seminar, on environmental through, practice, and ecotheology in the Hindu ethos and the world’s religions is appropriate for MA, MDiv and PhD/ThD students will examine the resources-conceptual and practical-available within the world's religions for engaging the environmental crisis. Evaluation methods will include reflection papers, a journalistic internet survey of environmental activism in a religion, and a research paper. Our study begins with contemporary writings on ecological thought, activism, and examines recent developments—both local and global--in sustainable practices across faith traditions. We will then learn how religions employ central doctrines, practices, and sustaining perspectives on nature to construct new systematic ecotheologies from traditional resources. Guest faculty speakers with expertise in different religious traditions, and field trips to eco-villages will complement our exploration of the intersection of religion(s) and ecology.


Spring 2015

Philosophy of Religion: India and the West
Course Number: PHHR-4100
Instructor: Bilimoria (HS/GTU)
Location and Time: MUDD: 103 F 12:40 PM - 03:30 PM

Philosophy of Religion in the West has focused on proving the existence of God and accounting for the persistence of Evil or "sin" in the world. This tension arises from claims based on faith and scripture over the claims of reason and science. However, negligible attention has been paid to living religions outside of the Abrahamic traditions, encompassing doctrines, theologies, philosophies, and symbolic patterns that might inscribe different ultimate concerns. The course attempts to redress this imbalance by engaging the Dharmic theologies/philosophies of India - Hindu, Jain and Buddhist - in a comparative inquiry on the "Big Questions." We examine certain alternative categories from both ancient and contemporary Indic texts, regarding categories such as the individual self (atman) as the universal self (Brahman), dharma as duty, duhkha as suffering, karma as a guiding moral principle, prayascitta as retributive sacrifice, and values or virtues such as compassion, moral care, non-injury, intellectual excellence, and the aesthetics of grief and joy, etc., challenged by developments in the sciences, cosmology and cross-cultural life-worlds.


Gandhi and Non-Violence
Course Number: RSHS-2221
Instructor: Bilimoria (HS/GTU)
Location and Time: PSR: 6 T 11:10AM - 02:00PM

GLOBALIZING CIVIL JUSTICE: The course explores the many facets of 20th century's most influential savant of nonviolence (ahimsa) and the towering leader of South Asia's freedom struggle against the British Empire: Mahatma Gandhi. We will examine how from passive precepts of non-injury and compassion in Dharma spiritualties. Gandhi was able to evolve the powerful principles of nonviolent resistance, positive action, satyagraha, (truth-force), reinforced by personal disciplines of chastity, fasting, charity, prayer, and empathic love towards the other, as well as empowering the subaltern or the disadvantaged (e.g., women, children and under-caste groups). The wider impact and application of Gandhi's challenging ideas and techniques toward engaged social action for civil rights, or redressing injustice, discrimination, and inequitable access to economic capabilities, basic education, healthy sanitation, civil and fundamental human rights will be examined. Utilizing media and visual narratives, we will explore Gandhi’s early life, then move to the decisive actions in his Indian homeland, and finally their adoption and extension globally. As case studies of movements either profoundly influenced, or indirectly informed by Gandhian radical non-violence philosophy, we will chart the Civil Rights struggles (from Du Bois to Martin Luther King, Jr), peace and conflict resolution strategies, responses to the ecological crisis; land, upliftment of women and children, animal rights, and liberation theologies.


Fall 2014

Comparative Indian Ethics
Course Number: RSHR-4520
Instructor: Bilimoria (HS/GTU)
Location and Time: JSTB: 216 M 02:10PM - 05:00PM

DHARMA, JUSTICE, GENDER AND ECOLOGY: The course focuses on major founding insights, principles and practical applications of moral theology and ethical thinking - or Dharma – in India, from classical to contemporary times. It critically engages Indian ideas of duty, right conduct, women and social ethics, ecological attitudes and justice, negotiating personal law, constitutional rights, Gandhian responses and postcolonial with secular challenges. In the first section, students will read primary literature on competing ethical theories, Western and Indian. The next section will focus on practical moral issues, notably the dialectic of communitarian constrains versus individual autonomy, hierarchic governance vs democratic/liberal processes, religious proclivity vs secular ideals, rights trumping rites (duties), patriarchy vs gender justice, virtues vs instrumental rationality, as well as bioethical, animal, and environmental challenges in a rapidly globalizing world. How modern India before and after Gandhi has responded to these challenges, amidst diversity and plurality of communities, is a question that will also inform the inquiry throughout.


Hinduism: Classical Texts
Course Number: HRHS-4771
Instructor: Berliner (HS/GTU)
Location and Time: MUDD: 204 T 11:10AM - 02:00PM

This course will examine selections from classical Hindu scriptural texts. We will begin with selections from the Upanishads, the last portion of the Vedas, and analyze not only the verses but also the commentary written by Shankara, one of the foremost philosophers of Indian thought. We will also read selections from the Bhagavad-gita along with Shankara's analysis of the selected verses. The course will close by reading in full "Advaita Makaranda," a 14th century text from the tradition of Vedanta. By the end of the semester a student will have an understanding of the origin and primary concepts in Hindu thought. Evaluation based on a term paper and class participation.