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Lectures by Professor Joseph T. O’Connell

Hindu-Muslim encounters in Bengal

24 Feb 2002
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Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s Caitanya-caritamrta: Its value as a witness to historical events

Shivdasani Lecture
3 Jun 2011

The sacred biographies of Krishna-Caitanya appear to convey a great deal of historical information about the words and actions of their main subject and of hundreds of his followers and other contemporaries. They also include along the way a number of vignettes, some with political implications, that, if accurate, would extend our knowledge of early sixteenth century Bengal some degrees beyond the intramural affairs of the nascent community of devotees. But how reliable are these texts as records of actual historical persons, words and events? Devotees tend to say very reliable. Scholars tend to divide on the issue with some claiming that theological, devotional, and polemic concerns thoroughly negate the ostensible historicity of the texts. Others take a more favourable view arguing that much historical fact is recoverable from the sacred biographies despite the presence of theological and ‘mythical’ constraints. It may even be argued that the authors’ conviction that Krishna-Caitanya’s apparently human actions are ontologically lilas (divine sport) intended to instruct humans in authentic devotion (bhakti) itself provides a religious motive for seeking accuracy in reporting those actions, even in Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s Caitanya-caritamrta (Nectar-like Acts of Caitanya).

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How Can Religion Be Studied in South Asian Universities? Or Should It Be?

Shivdasani Lecture
10 Jun 2011

There is a striking disparity between the prominence of religious factors in personal and collective life of so much of the population of South Asian countries and the extreme rarity of study and research explicitly on religion in the universities of those same countries. This anomalous disparity has recently become a subject of concern to a number of scholars within South Asia as well as to some elsewhere who focus their own scholarship on religion in South Asia. This lecture notes several contributory factors (European origin, cultural differences, colonial precedents, novelty and lack of teachers, teaching resources and teaching positions) but gives primary attention to fear and hostility between religio-political communalist and secularist mentalities and interests as inhibiting academic study of religion.

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Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s Caitanya-caritamrta: Its characteristics as a sacred biography

Shivdasani Lecture
27 May 2011

Sacred biographies of Visvambhara Misra, aka Krishna-Caitanya, (1486–1533) constitute an unusually ample array of texts that for half a century have provided an enduring basis for an otherwise loosely coordinated community of Vaishnava devotees in Bengal and elsewhere. The Caitanya-caritamrta (Nectar-like Acts of Caitanya) of Krishnadasa Kaviraja is the culmination of an inter-related series of such texts. Relying primarily on the Caitanya-caritamrta (in the Bengali and Sanskrit original and in its translation by Edward C. Dimock, Jr.) and drawing upon Tony K. Stewart’s The Final Word, the seminar examines how theological-cum-devotional concerns and institutional loyalties are mediated through the literary forms and strategies employed by the series of ‘biographers’ of Caitanya culminating in Krishnadasa Kaviraja.

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Krishna-Chaitanya Bhakti and Rabindranath’s Religion of Man: Their resonance and dissonance

Shivdasani Lecture
20 May 2011

When we think of Rabindranath Tagore in relation to the Krishna-Caitanya religio-literary tradition of Bengal, his youthful Bhanusimher Padaboli immediately come to mind, as they should as the most explicit treatments of a Vaishnava theme in all of his immense literary corpus. But we may also ask what other indications there may be of resonances and dissonances vis-à-vis the Vaishnava tradition elsewhere in his prose and poetry, especially as he grew older. This lecture first reviews his family’s Vaishnava affinities, especially among the women, and the countervailing critical attitudes and policies of the Brahmo Samaj of which he was for some time secretary. It then attempts to assess in what ways and to what degree underlying characteristics of Bengali Vaishnava piety and aesthetics may be reflected or rejected, implicitly if not explicitly in the works of the mature Rabindranath.

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Krishna-Chaitanya Bhakti and Rabindranath’s Religion of Man: Their resonance and dissonance

Shivdasani Lecture
20 May 2011

When we think of Rabindranath Tagore in relation to the Krishna-Caitanya religio-literary tradition of Bengal, his youthful Bhanusimher Padaboli immediately come to mind, as they should as the most explicit treatments of a Vaishnava theme in all of his immense literary corpus. But we may also ask what other indications there may be of resonances and dissonances vis-à-vis the Vaishnava tradition elsewhere in his prose and poetry, especially as he grew older. This lecture first reviews his family’s Vaishnava affinities, especially among the women, and the countervailing critical attitudes and policies of the Brahmo Samaj of which he was for some time secretary. It then attempts to assess in what ways and to what degree underlying characteristics of Bengali Vaishnava piety and aesthetics may be reflected or rejected, implicitly if not explicitly in the works of the mature Rabindranath.

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