Volume 13, Number 14  March 24, 2006

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Politics, religion combine on student trip to India

by David Shield

In Canada, the pulpit and the ballot box have traditionally had difficulties sharing the same stage.  In India however, the realms of religion and politics have become practically inseparable. Home to major holy sites of many different faiths, religion has always played an important, and sometimes divisive, role in India’s political life.

So, when Political Studies Professor Robert Schwab and Religious Studies Professor James Mullins decided to take a group of students on an academic trip to India this coming summer, they chose to combine forces and examine both the secular and the spiritual forces at work in India today.

Broken up into a series of five ‘pilgrimages’ to India’s greatest holy sites, the four-week trip will take students to sacred places like the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala and the holy city of Ayodhya. Schwab says the experience will be incredibly beneficial to the students involved in the course.

“By the time we get these kids back to Canada, and remember, we’re doing all this in four weeks, at a second year level, they will understand far more of India than they ever would after taking two three-credit courses on campus. The very exposure itself will be a learning experience,” he says.

Having lived in India for several years, Schwab says India’s political scene is fascinating. While 82 percent of India’s population is Hindu, many other world religions have a significant presence, including Sikhism, Islam and Buddhism.

“This is a country where three Muslims have been president, where you have a situation where, at this moment, the President is Muslim and the Prime Minister is Sikh, neither of which are part of the majority Hindu population.”

Schwab says the title of his course “Turmoil And Change” is fitting, given the country’s political history. India’s religious groups have clashed many times, leading to such notable events as the destruction of a famous mosque by Hindu ‘fundamentalists’ in the city of Ayodhya in 1995, battles over the majority Muslim state of Kashmir, and the recent trend of the ‘untouchable’ Dalit caste converting to Buddhism and Christianity.

“If you ever get involved in Indian politics, it’s like looking at a boiling cauldron. There’s all sorts of things going on there.”

While the trip promises to be fascinating, Schwab says students are still expected to complete academic work, including two papers or presentations at the end of the two courses, plus a final exam.

“The three credits they get in both (Political Studies and Religion) courses are earned credits,” he says.  “I think both James and I are strong on that. This is not a tourist trip – this is for the purpose of study travel.”

So far, 21 of the 24 spaces in the summer program are filled. Schwab says the students signed on for the trip are an eclectic mix, including three seniors and a pre-med student from the University of Manitoba.

“I think the students are going to come out of it with a really great experience. For any student who wants an exposure to India, this is a great way to go about it.”

David Shield is a Saskatoon freelance writer

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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