Microsoft's Encarta: Biased Against Hinduism?

A point-by-point examination of the popular encyclopedia's treatment of Hindu beliefs.

Reprinted from Sulekha, the online Indian community, with permission of the author.

Author's note: The scholarship of certain sections of the academic community studying Hinduism has been controversial in the Indian community. In this article we try to examine whether there is truth to this controversy, and whether such academics influence the mainstream portrayal of "Hinduism" in standard sources. We use Microsoftr Corporation's Encartar Encyclopedia as the reference in this study.


Introduction

In this article we discuss the differences, in both approach and result, of Encarta's articles on Hinduism in comparison with the articles on some of the other major world religions in Encarta. Encarta Encyclopedia is published by Microsoft Corporation, which claims that it is the "Best-selling encyclopedia brand." Encarta is widely used as a reference source in American schools. In particular, because of its widespread use among children, we would expect Encarta's coverage of religions to be even-handed, sensitive, and unprejudiced. In a world of religious conflict, it becomes particularly important that children are given balanced viewpoints of mainstream beliefs and practices of all religions.

In particular, we contrast Encarta's treatment of Hinduism with the two other major religions -- Islam and Christianity. On occasion, we also refer to the treatment of other religions like Judaism and Buddhism. The purpose of this article is not to make value judgments or a comparative study of the religions themselves. In studying such a vast and complex phenomena as the major religions, one can always find conflicting or questionable issues, just as one can find highly elevating truths. What aspects of the religion get highlighted is a matter of editorial choice. Our interest is not in comparing the religions per se, but in understanding the differences in editorial choice -- both in the selection of content as well as style, in the scholarly treatment of these religions in Encarta.

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Unless otherwise noted, all references below are to the main content article on each of the religions in Encarta. We have used Encarta Encyclopedia 2002 (US edition) for our reference, though a casual look at Encarta 2003 suggests that the articles on the major religions have remained the same as Encarta 2002. All actual quotes are in quotation marks preceded by the name of the article in Encarta.

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