HAF Applauds Textbook Publishers for Transformational Changes in Depiction of Hinduism in Texas

Washington, D.C. (November 24, 2014) - In a landmark moment for the Hindu American community, the Texas State Board of Education voted late last week to adopt new textbooks that dramatically improve the way Hinduism is depicted.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) was involved in the adoption process from the beginning, working with scholars and historians to ensure a constructive and accurate understanding of Hinduism. As a result of the changes made by publishers in response to HAF's reviews, the textbooks now present a picture of Hinduism that emphasizes the religion's core philosophies with accurate explanations of key concepts.

"This is a game-changing moment for our community," said Houston-based HAF Board Member Rishi Bhutada, testified before the state board in September, urging changes to the proposed content. "This is the first time that this type of textbook reform has ever been accomplished on a statewide level anywhere in the US, and to do it in Texas, one of the two biggest textbook markets in the country, is amazing."

Educators, several publishers, and other advocacy groups worked closely with HAF to make sure the representations of Hinduism were not steeped in the archaic and inaccurate "caste, cows, and karma" approach that has dominated textbook content for years. With 100 errors corrected, additional changes include:

  • more balance in understanding the disputed origins of Hindu civilization
  • inclusion of Hinduism and Hindus in contemporary world history and geography
  • greater context in the explanation of caste, including the definition of terms such as varna and jati
  • detailed explanation of terms such as karma and dharma
  • reflection of the inherently pluralistic nature of Hinduism

One publisher, for example, wrote:

"In short, one has to live according to his or her dharma, which is defined as righteous action for spiritual advancement. Hindu teachings believe that all beings suffer, but that karma, the law of action and consequence, will govern the circumstances of future births. If a person lives well, she or he will be reborn in better circumstances and have an easier path to achieving moksha. However, karma is still based on one's choices, and Hindu teachings emphasize that having a better birth does not guarantee progress. The goal is to exhaust all of one's karma from previous lives in order to achieve moksha, or union with Brahman."

Another publisher mentioned the Hindu saint Adi Shankara, the first time such a reference has been made in an American K-12 textbook. HAF's Director of Education and Curriculum Reform, Murali Balaji, Ph.D., said that the changes reflected rigorous academic feedback and a fact-based approach to teaching about Hinduism.

"This is transformational for the Hindu American community, but it's important to note that being culturally sensitive doesn't mean forsaking accuracy," Dr. Balaji said, noting reviews by numerous religion and history scholars. "We want to ensure that students in Texas have the most accurate and constructive understanding about the world's third largest faith, in a state that has the second highest population of Hindus in the country."

Balaji credited an engaged Hindu American community in Texas, including nearly 30 who volunteered to serve as textbook reviewers for the Texas Education Agency (three were ultimately selected), as well as the leadership of Bhutada and HAF Executive Council member, Dr. Rajiv Pandit of Fort Worth, who worked to get members of the Dallas-Fort Worth community engaged in the importance of the review.

The textbook vote is final, and the textbook changes will reflect in materials next year. The Hindu American Foundation's evidence-based efforts in education reform have been acknowledged in Texas and across the country, including by prominent social studies and history organizations such as the National Council for the Social Studies.