Religion plays a major role in A Passage to India, dividing not only the primarily Christian British from the Indians, but also dividing Indian society from within. While Hinduism is the majority religion in India, and Islam the most significant minority, other Indian religious groups mentioned in the novel include Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. Ronny Heaslop typifies the British administrator's attitude toward all religion, including Christianity, as an irrational system of beliefs. According to him, Christianity is only useful insofar as it provides divine justification for the British monarchy, and no more. And India's plethora of religions only underscores its backwardness to someone like Ronny. The novel, however, explores how different religious traditions, including Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, might provide a better, more inclusive view of humanity. But no one religion in the novel is valorized over the others as the last word on life, the universe, and everything. The "boum" – a twist on the Hindu Dharmic "om" – that threatens Mrs. Moore's hold on life signals the novel's general skepticism toward all organized religions.
Questions About Religion
- A number of different religious traditions are explored in the novel, including Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Putting aside what you know about these religions, can you explain how the novel represents these religions? What are the similarities and differences in their general values as depicted in the novel?
- What are the religious background of the different characters? How do the differences in their religious backgrounds affect their relationships with each other?
- Some critics argue that the novel sets up Hinduism as a superior religious system to Islam and Christianity because of its inclusiveness. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Chew on This
While A Passage to India certainly shows how religious differences divide colonial society in Chandrapore, it also shows how the value of love in Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam can contribute to a bridging between cultures.
While Hinduism is represented as the closest to the novel's principle of inclusiveness, it is weakened by its own internal divisions and caste hierarchies.