Study Guide

A Passage to India Religion

By E.M. Forster

Religion

Part 1, Chapter 2

A mosque by winning his approval let loose his imagination […] Here was Islam, his own country, more than a Faith, more than a battle-cry, much, much more … Islam, an attitude towards life both exquisite and durable, where his body and his thoughts find their home. (1.2.61)

This passage shows Aziz's personal relationship with Islam. In contrast to Hinduism (exemplified by the character Godbole), Aziz associates Islam with a distinct "country" and "home," a reference to his nostalgia for the Mughal Empire (see "Setting" for more on Aziz's relationship to the Mughal Empire).

Part 1, Chapter 4

And the wasps? [Mr. Sorley] became uneasy during the descent to wasps, and was apt to change the conversation. And oranges, cactuses, crystals and mud? And the bacteria inside Mr. Sorley? No, no, that is going too far. We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing. (1.4.13)

This passage is ironic toward the missionaries. They advocate a Christianity that embraces all regardless of creed. How about species, the narrator asks? Sorley is willing to accept monkeys, but wasps, oranges, mud, bacteria? The reference to mud in this passage is a comment on the fact that Christianity is a religion that seeks to reject the general "muddle" of existence (see our discussion of "muddle" in "Life, Consciousness, and Existence").

Part 1, Chapter 5
Mrs. Moore

"Because India is a part of the earth, and God has put us on the earth to be pleasant to each other. God …is…love […] God has put us on earth to love our neighbors and to show it, and He is omnipresent, even in India, to see how we are succeeding […] The sincere if impotent desire wins His blessing. I think everyone fails, but there are so many kinds of failure. Good will and more good will and more good will." (1.5.97-99)

Like the missionaries in Quote #2, Mrs. Moore is Christian. But unlike the missionaries, she seems to embrace a God who loves all things – even the humble wasp that made Sorley so uncomfortable in Quote #2.

[Mrs. Moore] must needs pronounce [God's] name frequently, as the greatest she knew, yet she had never found it less efficacious. Outside the arch there seemed always an arch, beyond the remotest echo a silence. (1.5.102)

Perhaps it is because Mrs. Moore's version of Christianity is so all-embracing that it leads her to question Christianity itself. Her experience in India makes her question whether Christianity is the only way of understanding the world, whether there is a religion (or "arch") that is greater than Christianity, whether there is a religion even greater than that religion, and so on and so forth. Perhaps beyond religion there is nothing at all, "a silence."

Part 2, Chapter 14
Adela Quested

"[…] There will have to be something universal in this country – I don't say religion, for I'm not religious, but something, or how else are barriers to be broken down?"

[Adela] was only recommending the universal brotherhood he sometimes dreamed of, but as soon as it was put into prose it became untrue. (2.14.66)

Adela's comment here testifies to her own modest assessment of her psychology. She's not terribly smart, she admits, so what will prevent her from turning into a Mrs. Turton? She asks Aziz for a way of looking at the world, something like religion, that will sustain her. If Aziz is put off by Adela even though he agrees with her need for a universal brotherhood, it's because Adela always has a problem looking past her abstract appreciation for the "real" India and connecting with actual Indians.

Religion appeared, poor little talkative Christianity, and [Mrs. Moore] knew that all its divine words from "Let there be Light" to "It is finished" only amounted to "boum." (2.14.99)

This quote brings Mrs. Moore's questioning of her Christianity to a head (see Quote #4). "Let there be light," the words God uses in the Old Testament to create the world and the universe, is muffled into an insignificant murmur. The cave's echo reduces everything she believes in to nothing, to sheer meaninglessness.

Part 3, Chapter 33

By sacrificing good taste, this worship achieved what Christian has shirked: the inclusion of merriment. All spirit as well as all matter must participate in salvation, and if practical jokes are banned, the circle is incomplete. (3.33.8)

Here, the novel expresses appreciation for Hinduism's embrace of the "muddle" that Christianity shirks. Here, Hinduism is lauded for including all aspects of human life in its rituals, including humor and fun.

Professor Godbole

It was [Godbole's] duty, as it was his desire, to place himself in the position of the God and to love her, and to place himself in her position and to say to the God, "Come, come, come, come." (3.33.8)

Godbole basically personifies Hinduism in the novel. His embrace of all people, things, even gods exemplifies the Hindu attitude described in Quote #7.

Part 3, Chapter 34

Thus was He thrown year after year, and were others thrown – little images of Ganpati, baskets of ten-day corn, tiny tazias after Mohurram – scapegoats, husks, emblems of passage; a passage not easy, not now, not here, not to be apprehended except when it is unattainable: the God to be thrown was an emblem of that. (3.34.65)

In this Gokul Ashtami ritual, the villagers create a virtual "muddle" by hurling all manner of stuff into the river, symbolizing their oneness with all creation. The reference to "passage" suggests that the other characters also experience a "passage" in their own, sometimes unconscious ways. Occurring at this late point in the novel, the quote asks us to consider all of the different ways that Aziz, Adela, Fielding, and the others have altered over the course of the entire novel.

The fissures in the Indian soil are infinite: Hinduism, so solid from a distance, is riven into sects and clans, which radiate and join, and change their names according to the aspect from which they are approached. (3.34.4)

As this quote shows, even Hinduism isn't a satisfactory religion. In addition to its rigid caste system (where you're born into one of four castes, with Brahmins at the top and the Untouchables so low they're not even included in the caste system), Hinduism has its own sects and divisions. This is why it can't provide the basis, the common ground, for an Indian nation: it too excludes people on the basis of caste and religion.