A comprehensive encyclopedia of one of the world's major religions was unveiled late last month in South Carolina. The 11-volume work covers Hindu spiritual beliefs, practices and philosophy, and is the culmination of a 25-year academic effort.
The encyclopedia is written in English and includes about 7,000 articles on Hinduism and its practices. The work also deals with Indian history, languages, art, music, dance, architecture, medicine and women's issues. The encyclopedia contains more than 1,000 illustrations and photographs.
Brightly colored images of Hinduism's deities fill entire pages, with foot-noted explanations of the forms and powers God can take in the religion.
"The goal was to have something pretty definitive - not just about Hinduism, but about the whole South Asian tradition," said University of South Carolina professor Hal French, who met with a small group of scholars in 1987 to offer academic support for the project.
"This hadn't really been attempted before," said French, 83, a distinguished professor emeritus of religious studies at the school and an associate editor. "It is a milestone of research that brought together both Eastern and Western scholarship."
The encyclopedia's volumes run from 600 to more than 700 pages. Some 3,000 copies are being issued in the first printing, French said.
Hinduism is the world's third-largest religion, with 1 billion followers, according to a Pew Research Center study published this year. Christians number 2.2 billion and Muslims 1.6 billion, the study showed.
Hinduism's basic teaching is that the soul never dies, but is reborn each time the body dies. The soul may be reborn in human or animal form. The cycle of death and rebirth continues until a soul reaches spiritual perfection and is united in total enlightenment and peace with the supreme being.