Kipling spends a lot of time cataloguing the sheer number of kinds of people in India. Every time there's a crowd scene, we see at least a dozen different representatives of different racial and cultural groups. But race, class, and culture aren't the only ways that Kipling divides people up: he also strongly emphasizes religious background. This novel includes Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist characters, all mingling together in the highly diverse social spaces of British India.
Still, for a novel with so many religions mixing together, Kim doesn't seem that invested in religious belief per se. While the lama is obviously a devout Buddhist, Kim's thoroughly secular, non-religious approach to the world seems much more in tune with the attitudes of the book as a whole.
But while the novel itself may not take a stand on religious faith, it does appear to have a lot of respect for what spirituality can do for the moral fiber of its characters. The lama is a good and honest man thanks in part to his religious commitment, and a lot of the charity and generosity that Kim and the lama find on the road arises from the respect the people of India have for the lama's holy status.
Questions About Spirituality
- Does Kipling present a hierarchy of religions in India that you can see? If so, how does he differentiate between the beliefs of all of the religious groups he represents? If not, what does this treatment of varying faiths suggest to you about the novel's attitude toward religious difference?
- How do the characters in Kim treat other characters who believe in religions not their own? Does religion generate a lot of conflict in this novel? If so, how? If not, why not?
- How does religious faith overlap with Kipling's representations of race and cultural difference in British India?
Chew on This
While the characters in Kim notice other people's religious differences—for example, Mahbub Ali calls Kim an unbeliever, and the lama makes comments about people who do not follow the Buddhist Middle Way—religion is a source of togetherness rather than conflict in this novel.
Because Kim takes a largely secular approach to spirituality, religion becomes primarily a matter of cultural and ethnic difference rather than a matter of faith in the novel.