Skip directly to content

Vedas and Upanishads

Course overview

In this course we will start a detailed study of Hindu sacred texts with an introduction to the religious teachings of the Veda Samhitas (Vedas) and the Upanishads.

The aim of the course is to provide you with a broad understanding of the contents of these works, as well as the religious beliefs and practices they advocate. We will also look at specific passages in greater detail. In this way, you will get firsthand experience of the type of literature we are talking about, and will also acquire some practice in the process of interpretation.

The Vedas and the Upanishads are truly vast in their extent and there are few if any scholars, academic or Hindu, who can claim to have anything but a limited knowledge of their contents. Hence there is no possibility of covering the full extent of this literature and what we aim to do here is to present a broad outline of the principal themes and then indulge in a more detailed study of a limited number of selected passages.

In this way it is hoped that by the end of the module you will have a general understanding of the type of religion revealed in these works, and a detailed insight into the teachings of specific passages.

 

Course structure

The course consists of seven sessions delivered on a weekly basis.

Session One: The Veda Samhitas and the Vedic Religion

In this opening session we will consider the origins and structure of the Veda and explore the type of religion they espouse.

Session Two: The Vedic Hymns and the Vedic Ritual

Here we will look in more detail at a few of the hymns of the Rig Veda Samhita and consider the ritual of yajña recommended by the Vedic literature.

Session Three: Introduction to the Religion of the Upanishads

Here we will consider the religious and spiritual ideas revealed by Upanishadic literature and read through the short Isha Upanishad.

Session Four: The Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad

Here we will consider the structure and principal ideas of the Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad, read through selected passages and attempt to interpret their meaning.

Session Five: The Chandogya Upanishad

Here we will consider the structure and principal ideas of the Chandogya Upanishad, read through selected passages and attempt to interpret their meaning.

Session Six: The Katha Upanishad

In this session we will look at the narrative structure of the Katha Upanishad, review its main ideas and read through selected passages.

Session Seven: The Shvetashvatara Upanishad

Here we will consider the distinctive nature of the Shvetashvatara Upanishad’s ideas and their significance for Hinduism as a whole. We will then explore these ideas in more detail by reading through selected passages.