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Aesthetics of Ecstasy: A Phenomenology of Emotional Expansion in Caitanya Vaiṣṇava Religious Experience

Dr Hrvoje Čargonja
21 Nov 2014

In my lecture I will argue that expansiveness of emotions is not only the necessary condition for Caitanya Vaiṣṇava religious experience, but also a specific mode of givenness of the emotional dimension of experience. Such contention is grounded in my fieldwork on the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness (ISKCON), a Western ‘religious transplant’ (Bryant & Ekstrand 2004) of Bengal or Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism, a religion with theistic, devotional theology based on the ancient Indian theory of aesthetic experience known as the rasa theory. Based on the analysis of narratives of religious experience (from the scripture and interviews) I will show how tradition’s ‘embodied aesthetics’ (Holdrege 2013) of emotional expansion can be described through aesthetic values of control, intimacy and play.

Following Alexander Baumgarten, philosophers studying aesthetics of everyday life (Mandoki 2007, Saito 2008), and some anthropologists (Coote 1994, Morphy 1992), aesthetics is understood as ‘valued formal qualities of perception’  enabled by human capacity for qualitative evaluation. In lieu of such reasoning, aesthetic values are seen as ‘habits of attention’ (James 1984; Throop 2008), or ‘culturally appropriate ways’ (Throop 2008) of  and for  experiences, ‘that lend specific styles, configurations, and felt qualities to local experiences’ (Desjarlais 1994).

In this somewhat Schelerian view on emotional embodiment as ‘felt values’, Caitanya Vaiṣṇava religious experience emerges as a gradual and repetitive unfolding in which appearance of emotional ‘bodiliness,’ belonging to the three distinct categories of aesthetic values, feeds back into the just past one, amplifying the emotional intensity of the experience. In other words, acts of consciousness, recurrently entangling emotions and  feelings that conform to aesthetic values operating in a given cultural domain, become intensified or ‘refined’ (Higgins 2008) through the expansion of coherence in the flow of such ‘emplaced’ (Pink 2009) field of consciousness. Therefore, in terms of phenomenological reduction, a deeper insight into this religious tradition that deifies religious emotions brings to the foreground a very important, but often neglected feature of emotions and feelings – extended, periodic and expansive structure of their temporality.

Dr Hrvoje Čargonja is teaching assistant and postdoctoral student at Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, University of Zagreb, Croatia, where he obtained his PhD degree. He also holds a MSc degree in molecular biology awarded by Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb. His doctoral thesis was a research on the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness with special focus on the topic of religious experience. He conducted his fieldwork in Croatia and India and was awarded several scholarships for a three year research stay at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies where he worked under the supervision of Professor Gavin Flood. His special research interests include: anthropology of religion, phenomenology of religious experience in Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism, cultural phenomenology.

From Myth to Ritual: The Horse of Pedu and the Remedy for Removing Snake’s Poison

Shivdasani Lecture
Prof. Shrikant Bahulkar
13 Nov 2014

The Atharvavedic hymn (AVŚ X.4 = AVP XVI. 15, 16, 17) is a charm against snakes and their poison. It mentions Paidva, a slayer of snakes. The word paidva-, literally meaning of Pedu, is derived from the word pedu- that occurs in the ṚV as a proper name (ṚV 117.9; 118.9; 119.10). In the Ṛgvedic hymns, addressed to Aśvins, it is mentioned that Aśvins gave a white horse to Pedu. The word paidva- thus refers to the horse. This horse is said to have possessed the power to destroy snakes. The Ṛgvedic hymns in question mention the snake-destroying horse; however, they have no connection with the remedy for removing snake’s poison. On the contrary, the Atharvavedic hymn (AVŚ X.4) does not mention Aśvins and their gift to Pedu; but mentions paidva that kills various kinds of snakes. In the ritual context of the Atharvaveda, paidva is to be employed in the remedy for removing snakes poison, prescribed in the Kauśika-sūtra (32.20-25), the major ritual text of the Atharvaveda. It is obvious that paidva, mentioned in the rite of the Kauśika-sūtra, is not the mythical horse of the Ṛgveda. The Atharvavedic tradition simply uses the connection of the mythical horse of Pedu with the snake-killing power for the purpose of the ritual in which the main rite is to be performed as the remedy for removing snake’s poison. It is difficult to identify paidva of the Atharvaveda. The commentators of the Kauśika-sūtra identify it as an insect. It appears that there existed a remedy in the tradition of the Atharvaveda for removing the snake’s poison and that the insect or some other substance to be used for that purpose was given the name paidva in order to connect it with the mythical horse known for its snake-killing power.  The relevant myth and the ritual connected with the myth will be discussed in detail.

What kind of Philosophical Theory is Madhyamaka?

Majewski Lecture
Jan Westerhoff
30 Oct 2014

The Madhyamaka school of philosophy has been credited as being the central philosophy of Buddhism and also as a kind of anti-philosophy of pure critique that simply seeks to demonstrate the contradictory nature of all statements about the world. This lecture explores the nature of philosophical argument in Madhyamaka and the kind of philosophical theory that the Madhyamaka is.

Originally trained as a philosopher and orientialist, Jan Westerhoff's research focuses on philosophical aspects of the religious traditions of ancient India. Much of his work concentrates on Buddhist thought (especially Madhyamaka) as preserved in Sanskrit and Tibetan sources, he also has a lively interest in Classical Indian philosophy (particularly Nyāya). His research on Buddhist philosophy covers both theoretical (metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language) and normative aspects (ethics); he is also interested in the investigation of Buddhist meditative practice from the perspective of cognitive science and the philosophy of mind. Some publications (for more information see www.janwesterhoff.net) are ‘The connection between ontology and ethics in Madhyamaka’ in: The Cowherds: Moonpaths: Ethics and Madhyamaka Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014; The Dispeller of Disputes: Nāgārjuna's Vigrahavyāvartanī, Oxford University Press, 2010; Twelve Examples of Illusion, Oxford University Press, 2010; Nāgārjuna's Madhyamaka. A Philosophical Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2009; ‘The Madhyamaka Concept of svabhāva: Ontological and Cognitive Aspects’, Asian Philosophy, 2007, 17:1, 17-45; Ontological Categories. Their Nature and Significance, Oxford University Press, 2005.

The Anthropology of Islamic Prayer

Religious Practice in Comparative Perspective Series
Dr Mohammad Talib
23 Oct 2014

The idea of prayer in Islam is vague in the sense that it ranges from the mandatory to the most optional and spontaneous. This lecture will deal with the issue of prayer from an anthropological perspective.

 

Dr Mohammad Talib is lecturer at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford. He has taught Sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia University (Delhi), from 1979 to 2001. In 2002, he came to Oxford as the Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz fellow in the Anthropology of Muslim Societies at the Oxford Centre for Islamic studies. His research in the anthropology of Islam focuses on Sufi groups, and madrassahs. His current research work: Madrassahs in the Recent History: An Alternative view between Anthropology and International Relations is a critical examination of the state of social science scholarship on Islam in the contemporary world after 9/11. Among his publications are Writing Labour: Stone Quarry Workers in Delhi (2010), Delhi, Oxford University Press, ‘Modes of Overcoming Social Exclusion through Education: Analysis of two Accounts from Pre-and Post Independent India’ in K N Panikkar and M Bhaskaran Nair (eds.) Emerging Trends in Higher Education in India: Concepts and Practices (New Delhi: Pearson Education India, 2011), ‘Predicaments of Serving Two Masters: Anthropologists between the Discipline and Sponsored Research’ in Raúl Acosta et. al (eds.) Making Sense of the Global: Anthropological Perspectives on Interconnections and Processes. (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), and ‘Sufis and Politics’ in The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Modern Islamic World, John Esposito (ed). Oxford University Press, New York (2008).

Vedism and Brahmanism in Buddhist Literature: An Overview

Shivdasani Lectures
Prof. Shrikant Bahulkar
16 Oct 2014

There is seen the tendency of Vedism and Brahmanism through out the Buddhist literature, right from the early Pāli canon through the Mahāyāna to the late Buddhist Tantric texts. In the Pāli canon, the terms such as veda, vijjā, tevijja, yañña and so on. These terms have basically Vedic connotations; however they have been used in a different, typically Buddhist sense. In the Mahāyāna scriptures, there are a number of Vedic concepts used to praise the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas. In the Vajrayāna rituals, we find a growing tendency of Vedism and Brahmanism. While borrowing the Vedic and Brahmanical vocabulary, concepts and ritual practices, the Buddhist did not necessarily adhere directly to particular traditions or texts.  The proportion of the usage of such vocabulary and ritualistic practices has increased in the Mahāyāna and, more prominently, in late Buddhist Tantric tradition that involved the muttering of various mantras, offerings into fire and other practices, resembling the Vedic and Brahmanical sacrificial ritual. 

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religion: Session Four

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religions
30 May 2014

Capturing the Other Side: Difficulties Facing Religious NGO Groups in India

Ved Patel, Worcester College

Hindu NGOs currently play an integral part in social and disaster relief projects in India. Despite this, they are faced with critiques that can be grouped under the general categories of religious innovation and religious nationalism. On one hand, Hindu NGO groups have been criticized for lacking substantial Hindu theological or textual sources that support or encourage such work. This attempt at engagement, then, is passed off as mimicry of western or Christian based models of social involvement. Alternately, these acts of service have been labeled as nationalistic and supportive of RSS and BJP ideals. Both of these designations can impede additional Hindu NGOs from engaging in a voluntary sector that demands increased participation. This paper will discuss some of the specific critiques that have been aimed at these groups and some of the plausible methods that can be implemented to increase voluntary involvement

Śrībhāya of Rāmānuja: A Modern and Contextual Reading

Ionut Moise, Wolfson College

Śrībhāṣya of Rāmānuja (c.12th AD) provides a new commentary on the Vedanta classic text Brahma-Sutra of Bādarāyaṇa (c. 2nd -3rd AD) in the light of the Viśiṣṭādvaita, a branch of Vedanta (one of the six major Hindu philosophical schools). The text expounds Rāmānuja’s interpretation, particularly his doctrine of Karman, or bhakti, whose knowledge, he maintains, is essential for salvation (mokṣa). It is more of a theological work, as he discusses the idea of a personal god (Parama-Puruṣa), endowed with qualities, on which grounds Śaṅkara is frequently criticised. Rāmānuja maintains also the reality of cosmos and the individual souls (ātman). The majority of scholars continue to regard Śrībhāṣya as the most fundamental work of Rāmānuja and Viśiṣṭādvaita, and in modern time has opened new perspectives in the zone of applied theology, and inter-religious dialogue. Here I seek to provide a modern and contextual re-reading of the text. 

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religion: Session Three

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religions
23 May 2014

Convenors: Tristan Elby and Lucian Wong

Session 2: Gadamer's Hermeneutics: Bias, Understanding, and Expanding Horizons

Gadamer and Religion
Dr Jessica Frazier
23 May 2014

Gadamer saw culture, religion, and art as 'living texts' that integrate our life experience into a meaningful worldview that allows us to think, act, and create. But no worldview is ever static or finished; in 'understanding' we use bias (that of ourselves and others) as the raw material from which a new worldview is created. In this respect Gadamer shares much with Aristotelian and later Vitalist thinkers. But Gadamer also affirms that texts can act poetically as 'angels', as he puts it in his studies of Rilke and Paul Celan, gesturing toward the transcendence of that which cannot be encompassed in human thought.

Negotiating the Scriptural Boundary in Early Modern South Asia: Appayya Dīkṣita and Jīva Gosvāmī on Madhva’s Untraceable Citations

Dr Kiyokazu Okita
22 May 2014

In an important paper published in 2012, Elisa Freschi effectively establishes the significance of what we might call ‘Quotation Studies’, an area of study which has been underexplored. Among many benefits such a study can yield, Freschi points out that the study of quotation can reveal the way in which an author understood authority in his / her tradition. In this context Freschi mentions an exciting case of Madhva’s untraceable citations, which Madhva uses to validate his own view.

As Freschi points out, the topic of Madhva’s quotes is a controversial one because many of the passages and the texts quoted by Madhva are found only in his works. For example, he would cite a passage and attributes it to certain text such as the Caturvedaśikhā, which no one ever heard of. Or after citing a verse, he would say iti varāhe but we do not find such a verse in the editions of the Purāṇa currently available. Or he would simply write iti ca, without telling us where his citation is coming from.

In the contemporary Indological field the topic of Madhva’s untraceable quotes has been systematically and extensively explored by Roque Mesquita, who argues that Madhva’s untraceable quotes are for the most part not actual quotes but his own creation. This claim has received considerable criticism from the scholars who belong to the Mādhva tradition. Therefore, in this presentation I shall first briefly describe the history and the nature of the modern day controversy concerning Madhva’s quotes. Then I briefly explore the possible implications of this controversy in relation to the Purāṇic study and the study of Vedānta as Hindu Theology. The main part of this presentation however consists of an exploration of the writings of two important Hindu Theologians in the sixteenth century namely Appayya Dīkṣita and Jīva Gosvāmī, who held opposing views on Madhva’s quotes. While Appayya rejects Madhva’s untraceable quotes to refute the latter’s Dvaita position, Jīva refers to the same quotes to validate his own Gauḍīya viewpoint. By examining these two authors, I hope to show the complexity involved in this topic, which in my view has not been fully addressed in Mesquita’s works.

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religion: Session Two

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religions
Convenors: Tristan Elby and Lucian Wong
16 May 2014

The Contested Category of ‘Neo-Vedānta’:

Swami Vivekananda and the Multivocality of Pre-Colonial Advaita Vedāntic Traditions  

James Madaio, University of Manchester 

'Neo-Vedānta' is the standard scholarly term for the philosophical-theological teachings of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). The concretisation of labels, however, can occlude as much as it can reveal. I argue that early Indological interest in historical origins and certain modalities of Advaita Vedāntic theology underrepresents the multivocality of Advaita Vedāntic traditions.  And it is precisely the understudied periods and text genres that were key sources for colonial period 'Neo-Vedāntins' such as Vivekananda.  My paper therefore aims to complicates categories of comparison derived from mid-twentieth century Indological scholarship still evident in post-colonial approaches to the swami.

A New Stage in Comparative Theology:

‘The Mystical Appropriation’ of Swami Abhishiktananda

Ionut Moise, Wolfson College

In this presentation I inquire into the doctrinal issues deriving from Hindu-Christian forms of worship promoted by Swami Abhishiktānanda (Henry le Saux). I will try to underline the problems and the need for the development of a liturgical comparative theology, which relates to both the Christian doctrine and Hindu ritual. The relation between Hindu culture and Christian faith, their orthodoxy and orthopraxy, will be the focus of my presentation. I start by looking at Abhishiktānanda’s understanding of integrating or ‘appropriating’ the Advaita experience and the difficult issues deriving from it. Three months before his death, Abhishiktānanda, intensely faithful to sannyasa, wrote a letter to Murray Rogers (MR, 4.10.73) in which he said that his legacy would be freedom from any notion of ‘Churchianity’ including worship. Yet, Abhishiktānanda’s legacy, (the Shantivanam Ashram) which represents today a meeting point between Hindu culture and Christian faith, seems to contradict his previous statement on the transcendence of the theological ritual. After all, is Hindu-Christian worship needed or not? Second, I will attempt to look at Hindu–Christian worship per se and to explore the value and theological implications deriving from it. A Hindu–Christian liturgy supposes a new language of faith, a new spirituality, and new hermeneutics.  To what extent does the Hindu worship joined to the Christian one remain orthodox? In Hindu traditions, the value of ritual is measured not according to the meaning which carries, but according to the orthopraxy of its performance. On the other hand, in Christianity worship carries a meaning, a dogmatic message. Without these clarifications, the Hindu-Christian worship falls into the syncretism, which Abhishiktānanda rejected.Finally, my paper will try to explain the development of a liturgical theology, which could, or could not lay the premises for an experiential and theological encounter between Hinduism and Christianity.

Session 1: Gadamer's Biography: Beyond Theism and Atheism

Gadamer and Religion
Dr Jessica Frazier
16 May 2014

Gadamer appears to be an unusually secular figure among the phenomenologists of his day; unlike those who began as theologians, his study of classical culture taught him to study religion dispassionately, while embracing religious arts as a channel for his own concerns. Influenced by “Swabian piety”, Bultmannn’s ‘demythologisation’, the spirituality and humanism of the classical world, 'free-thinkers' such as Goethe, Rilke, and Stefan George, and creative re-thinkers of the Christian tradition such as Scheler and Heidegger, Gadamer affirmed both the cultural contingency of faith, and its confessional power.

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religion: Session One

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religions
9 May 2014

Deconstructing Taxonomies: How Can We Study ‘Modern Hinduism’?

Anthony King, Blackfriars

The category ‘Modern Hinduism’ is often assumed to be a comprehensive and all-encompassing taxonomy, one that carefully delineates all the modern manifestations of the pre-existing religions of India. However it is far from being an innocent signifier. It is the site of significant contestation between post-colonial and Enlightenment claims to truth and knowledge. Scholars are divided on the issue of the ‘construction’ of Hinduism, but what is certain is that the study of Hinduism is in a crisis.

How can we address the issue of the validity of the taxonomy ‘Modern Hinduism’? Is there a way to give a voice in the debate to those who perhaps hold the answer – ‘Modern Hindus’ themselves? This paper will address these issues and possible methodologies of such an approach.

Political Theology in the Bhagavad-Gita

Sachi Patel, Wolfson College

Amongst Hinduism’s theological texts the Bhagavad-Gīta is perhaps the most well-known and quoted text in the Hindu tradition. Numerous commentaries and translations have been produced. Within this conglomerate of views, many individuals have derived a political or social inspiration from its teachings, some propagating a political theology based on the text. I will investigate this further, specifically focusing on the interpretations of karma according to the various interpreters in significant historic periods. The concept of karma highlights the relationship between political and social situations and the relevance of divine messages most clearly. 

Renunciation and service: the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, the Vivekananda Kendra, and Swami Vivekananda’s legacy

Majewski Lecture
Professor Gwilym Beckerlegge
7 May 2014

Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) has been an influential but contentious figure in the history of recent Hindu tradition.  From the vantage point provided by the celebration of Vivekananda’s 150th Birth Anniversary during 2013/14, this lecture will explore aspects of Vivekananda’s legacy with particular reference to the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, the movement he founded, and the Vivekananda Kendra, which came into existence in 1972. Greatly influenced by both the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and the RSS, the Kendra promotes its own brand of Hindutva ideology in Vivekananda’s name. Through an examination of these two movements, the lecture will illustrate the diffuse and durable nature of Vivekananda’s influence, and in the process explain why Vivekananda has been judged by some to have been a contradictory and controversial figure.

Professor Gwilym Beckerlegge’s research has centred on the legacy of Swami Vivekananda and the practice of seva within the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and other contemporary Hindu movements, in particular the Vivekananda Kendra.  His most recent publications include the entries on the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and the Vivekananda Kendra in the Brill Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (2013), ‘Legacy of Service’ Frontline (The Hindu Newspaper Group, Chennai) 30/2: 25-31, 2013, ‘Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) 150 years on: critical studies of an influential Hindu guru’ in Religion Compass, Vol.7, No.10, 2013, pp.444-453, and ‘Eknath Ranade, gurus and jīvanvratīs (life-workers): Vivekananda Kendra’s promotion of the ‘Yoga Way of Life’’ in M.Singleton and E.Goldberg (eds.) Gurus of Modern Yoga (2014).

Graduate Seminars (Session Three)

Convenors: Tristan Elby and Lucian Wong
14 Mar 2014

Deconstructing Taxonomies: How Can We Study ‘Modern Hinduism’?

Anthony King, Blackfriars, University of Oxford

The category ‘Modern Hinduism’ is often assumed to be a comprehensive and all-encompassing taxonomy, one that carefully delineates all the modern manifestations of the pre-existing religions of India. However it is far from being an innocent signifier. It is the site of significant contestation between post-colonial and Enlightenment claims to truth and knowledge. Scholars are divided on the issue of the ‘construction’ of Hinduism, but what is certain is that the study of Hinduism is in a crisis.

How can we address the issue of the validity of the taxonomy ‘Modern Hinduism’? Is there a way to give a voice in the debate to those who perhaps hold the answer – ‘Modern Hindus’ themselves? This paper will address these issues and possible methodologies of such an approach.

The idea of ahamkara in Samkhya and Yoga

Ramesh Pattni, Blackfriars, Oxford

Central to the Samkhya and Yoga perspectives is the ego and its central role in the continuation of subjectivity through grasping and ownership of experience. We look at this notion of the subject in relation to the underlying metaphysics of the systems of thought. 

Hindu Ritual and Practice – Four Theories

Hinduism and Theory: Key Critical Themes Series
Dr Jessica Frazier
28 Feb 2014

Drawing on Clifford Geertz's understanding of religion as a 'worldview', the seminar series explore key themes in Hinduism and looks at the way in which crucial conceptual 'translations' are needed to understand Hindu culture properly from without, and asks whether it is possible to derive critical and hermeneutic 'theory' in religious studies from Indic material. One of the goals will be to challenge the hegemony of Western-derived 'theories' of religion, culture, and human nature.

Gandhian Technique for Conflict Resolution: Satyagraha

Shivdasani Lecture
Prof. Sushil Mittal
17 Feb 2014

The presentation will provide an understanding of the principles of Satyagraha, its philosophical base, and the nature and practice of Satyagraha.

Professor Sushil Mittal is a fellow philosophical traveler with Mahatma Gandhi, Sushil Mittal is (full) Professor of Religion in the Department of Philosophy and Religion and Founding Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence at James Madison University, a post he held for five years (2005–2010).  Dr. Mittal joined JMU in Fall 2004. 

He earned his B.A. from McGill University in Montreal, M.A. from Carleton University in Ottawa, and Ph.D. from University of Montreal.  He has served on the faculties of the University of Florida in Gainesville and Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.

His discipline by training is cultural anthropology, but he is located in a department of religion where he teaches Hinduism and Gandhian thought.  He has conducted archival and field research in Canada, India, South Africa, and the United States at intervals during the last two decades.  The recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, his book publications include Development and Change in India (1993), Surprising Bedfellows: Hindus and Muslims in Medieval and Early Modern India (2003), The Hindu World (2004), Religions of South Asia: An Introduction (2006), and Studying Hinduism: Key Concepts and Methods (2008).

His current work-in-progress includes The Living Hindu World, Encyclopedia of Hindu Studies, and The Gandhi Reader.

He is the (Founding) Editor of the International Journal of Hindu Studies (1997- ) and the International Journal of Gandhi Studies (2012- ).

Professor Mittal was born in Canada (his “janma-bhumi”) buthas now dedicated himself to working in the United States(his “karma-bhumi”) and he looks to India as the mainsource of his spiritual inspiration (his “dharma-bhumi”).

Hindu Views of the Self and its Goals – Four Theories

Hinduism and Theory: Key Critical Themes Series
Dr Jessica Frazier
14 Feb 2014

Drawing on Clifford Geertz's understanding of religion as a 'worldview', the seminar series explore key themes in Hinduism and looks at the way in which crucial conceptual 'translations' are needed to understand Hindu culture properly from without, and asks whether it is possible to derive critical and hermeneutic 'theory' in religious studies from Indic material. One of the goals will be to challenge the hegemony of Western-derived 'theories' of religion, culture, and human nature.

Pāṇini’s grammar and the destiny of Sanskrit around the beginning of the Common Era

Majewski Lecture
Dr Vincenzo Vergiani
10 Feb 2014

Grammar (vyākaraṇa) has been generally considered to be at the very core of Brahmanical culture, to which it provided a template for systematic thought and intellectual discourse long before any other system of knowledge. And there is consensus about the fact that grammar, and especially Pāṇini’s grammar, helped legitimising the use of Sanskrit and making it the linguistic medium that dominated the literary culture of pre-modern South Asia for more than two millennia. However, until now this role has been mainly described in rather vague terms as related to the prestige attached to Sanskrit as the language of the Vedas and the priestly class. In light of the content and structure of Pāṇini’s grammar, on the one hand, and of the Buddhists’ early adoption of Sanskrit (followed, some time later, by the Jains), this explanation appears overly simplistic. I will look at the early history of the Pāṇinian tradition and suggest that, together with a number of other complex factors, it played a much more fundamental role in shaping the destiny of Sanskrit in South Asian history than has been recognised until now.

Vincenzo Vergiani is lecturer in Sanskrit at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge. His main areas of research are the Sanskrit grammatical tradition and the history of linguistic ideas in ancient South Asia. He is the director of the project “The intellectual and religious traditions of South Asia as seen through the Sanskrit manuscript collections of the University Library, Cambridge” (http://sanskrit.lib.cam.ac.uk/), funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. He has co-edited Studies in the Kāśikāvṛtti. The section on pratyāhāras. Critical edition, translation and other contributions (2009), and Bilingual Discourse and Cross-Cultural Fertilisation: Sanskrit and Tamil in Medieval India (2013).

Hindu Approaches to the Divine – Four Theories

Hinduism and Theory: Key Critical Themes Series
Dr Jessica Frazier
31 Jan 2014

Drawing on Clifford Geertz's understanding of religion as a 'worldview', the seminar series explore key themes in Hinduism and looks at the way in which crucial conceptual 'translations' are needed to understand Hindu culture properly from without, and asks whether it is possible to derive critical and hermeneutic 'theory' in religious studies from Indic material. One of the goals will be to challenge the hegemony of Western-derived 'theories' of religion, culture, and human nature.

Hinduism and Peacebuilding

Shivdasani Lecture
Prof. Sushil Mittal
21 Jan 2014

This presentation will identify some of the key positions on peace issues within the Hindu traditions, and how have textual sources and historical experiences shaped these positions.

Professor Sushil Mittal is a fellow philosophical traveler with Mahatma Gandhi, Sushil Mittal is (full) Professor of Religion in the Department of Philosophy and Religion and Founding Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence at James Madison University, a post he held for five years (2005–2010).  Dr. Mittal joined JMU in Fall 2004. 

He earned his B.A. from McGill University in Montreal, M.A. from Carleton University in Ottawa, and Ph.D. from University of Montreal.  He has served on the faculties of the University of Florida in Gainesville and Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.

His discipline by training is cultural anthropology, but he is located in a department of religion where he teaches Hinduism and Gandhian thought.  He has conducted archival and field research in Canada, India, South Africa, and the United States at intervals during the last two decades.  The recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, his book publications include Development and Change in India (1993), Surprising Bedfellows: Hindus and Muslims in Medieval and Early Modern India (2003), The Hindu World (2004), Religions of South Asia: An Introduction (2006), and Studying Hinduism: Key Concepts and Methods (2008).

His current work-in-progress includes The Living Hindu World, Encyclopedia of Hindu Studies, and The Gandhi Reader.

He is the (Founding) Editor of the International Journal of Hindu Studies (1997- ) and the International Journal of Gandhi Studies (2012- ).

Professor Mittal was born in Canada (his “janma-bhumi”) buthas now dedicated himself to working in the United States(his “karma-bhumi”) and he looks to India as the mainsource of his spiritual inspiration (his “dharma-bhumi”).

How Widespread Was Skepticism in Ancient India? Did the Materialists Really Exist, or Were They Just Straw Men?

Shivdasani Seminar
Prof. Wendy Doniger
19 Nov 2013

Though ancient shastras such as the Arthasastra and Kamasutra pay lip service to dharma, and criticize the so-called Materialists (Lokayatas or Carvakas), their central arguments show a total disregard for dharma and a striking congruence with Materialist assumptions.   Are the Carvakas straw men that allow shastras (and other texts, such as the Jabali episode in Book 2 of the Ramayana) to express skeptical ideas without taking responsibility for them?

Wendy Doniger (M.A., Ph.D. (Harvard University)
D.Phil. (Oxford University) is Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School, University of Chicago; also in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought. Wendy Doniger's research and teaching focus on translating, interpreting, and comparing elements of Hinduism through modern contexts of gender, sexuality, and identity. Her courses in mythology address themes in cross-cultural expanses, such as death, dreams, evil, horses, sex, and women; her courses in Hinduism cover a broad spectrum that, in addition to mythology, considers literature, law, gender, and zoology. Among over thirty books published under the name Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty and Wendy Doniger are sixteen interpretative works, including Siva: The Erotic Ascetic; The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology; Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts; Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities; Tales of Sex and Violence: Folklore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminiya Brahmana; Other Peoples’ Myths: The Cave of Echoes; Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India; The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade; The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth; The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was; and The Hindus: An Alternative History. Among her nine translations are three Penguin Classics—Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook, Translated from the Sanskrit; The Rig Veda: An Anthology, 108 Hymns Translated from the Sanskrit; and The Laws of Manu (with Brian K. Smith)—and a new translation of the Kamasutra (with Sudhir Kakar). In progress are Hinduism, for the Norton Anthology of World Religions (2013); Faking It: Narratives of Circular Jewelry and Clever Women; and a novel, Horses for Lovers, Dogs for Husbands.

The Magic Ring of Memory and Forgetfulness in South Asian Literature and Folklore

Shivdasani Lecture
Prof. Wendy Doniger
14 Nov 2013

In South Asian stories of rings, men accuse women of unchastity only to have the ring prove that it was the man, in fact, who was unchaste; the ring also validates the woman’s child as the true heir.   These stories—several variants of the tale of Shakuntala, the story of Muladeva from the Kathasaritsagara, and a village myth about the god Shiva and his wife Parvati-- show us how widespread is the desire to believe that a little thing like a ring can bring justice to the asymmetrical power relations that have controlled female sexuality for most of human history, or the desire to project the responsibility for sexual rejection or betrayal onto an external force like a gold ring. 

Wendy Doniger (M.A., Ph.D. (Harvard University)
D.Phil. (Oxford University) is Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School, University of Chicago; also in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought. Wendy Doniger's research and teaching focus on translating, interpreting, and comparing elements of Hinduism through modern contexts of gender, sexuality, and identity. Her courses in mythology address themes in cross-cultural expanses, such as death, dreams, evil, horses, sex, and women; her courses in Hinduism cover a broad spectrum that, in addition to mythology, considers literature, law, gender, and zoology. Among over thirty books published under the name Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty and Wendy Doniger are sixteen interpretative works, including Siva: The Erotic Ascetic; The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology; Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts; Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities; Tales of Sex and Violence: Folklore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminiya Brahmana; Other Peoples’ Myths: The Cave of Echoes; Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India; The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade; The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth; The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was; and The Hindus: An Alternative History. Among her nine translations are three Penguin Classics—Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook, Translated from the Sanskrit; The Rig Veda: An Anthology, 108 Hymns Translated from the Sanskrit; and The Laws of Manu (with Brian K. Smith)—and a new translation of the Kamasutra (with Sudhir Kakar). In progress are Hinduism, for the Norton Anthology of World Religions (2013); Faking It: Narratives of Circular Jewelry and Clever Women; and a novel, Horses for Lovers, Dogs for Husbands.

The Politics of Sexuality in Ancient India: The Indebtedness of the Kamasutra to the Arthasastra

Shivdasani Lecture
Prof. Wendy Doniger
12 Nov 2013

The depth and extent of the influence of the textbook of politics (the Arthasastra) on the textbook of sexuality (the Kamasutra) is surprising, most evident in the high incidence of distrust, betrayal and force in sexual relationships.    And the subsequent influence of the Kamasutra upon not only the erotic literary traditions of India but the eroticism of the bhakti tradition, particularly in Bengal, accounts in part for the darkness of that tradition, its emphasis on divine abandonment, betrayal, and even violence.

Wendy Doniger (M.A., Ph.D. (Harvard University)
D.Phil. (Oxford University) is Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School, University of Chicago; also in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought. Wendy Doniger's research and teaching focus on translating, interpreting, and comparing elements of Hinduism through modern contexts of gender, sexuality, and identity. Her courses in mythology address themes in cross-cultural expanses, such as death, dreams, evil, horses, sex, and women; her courses in Hinduism cover a broad spectrum that, in addition to mythology, considers literature, law, gender, and zoology. Among over thirty books published under the name Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty and Wendy Doniger are sixteen interpretative works, including Siva: The Erotic Ascetic; The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology; Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts; Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities; Tales of Sex and Violence: Folklore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminiya Brahmana; Other Peoples’ Myths: The Cave of Echoes; Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India; The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade; The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth; The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was; and The Hindus: An Alternative History. Among her nine translations are three Penguin Classics—Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook, Translated from the Sanskrit; The Rig Veda: An Anthology, 108 Hymns Translated from the Sanskrit; and The Laws of Manu (with Brian K. Smith)—and a new translation of the Kamasutra (with Sudhir Kakar). In progress are Hinduism, for the Norton Anthology of World Religions (2013); Faking It: Narratives of Circular Jewelry and Clever Women; and a novel, Horses for Lovers, Dogs for Husbands.

The Nature of the Self in the Bhagavad Gita: Session Two

Prof. Gavin Flood
8 Nov 2013

Chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita is about the relationship between ‘the field’ and ‘the field knower’ which can be taken to represent the body and self or universe and God. Different commentators had different interpretations about this relationship. The two seminars will examine the commentaries of Saṅkara and Ramanuja, focusing inparticular on the opening three verses.

Politics in Action: Gandhi, the Gita, and Modern Times

Majewski Lecture
Dr Faisal Devji
4 Nov 2013

While the Bhagavad-Gita justifiably receives scholarly attention as an ancient text, its modern history remains little explored. And yet the Gita is arguably the most important text of modern India, with many of the country's great intellectual and political figures attending to it in new ways from the 19th century. How did the Gita become the key text among such figures to think not about India's past so much as her present and future? This lecture will consider Gandhi's lifelong devotion to the Gita as part of a larger project to create a modern political thought for India's future.

Dr Faisal Devji is University Reader in Modern South Asian History. He has held faculty positions at the New School in New York, Yale University and the University of Chicago, from where he also received his PhD in Intellectual History. Devji was Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University, and Head of Graduate Studies at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, from where he directed post-graduate courses in the Near East and Central Asia. He sits on the editorial board of the journal Public Culture.  Dr Devji is the author of two books, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (2005), and The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics (2009), and is currently writing a book on the emergence of Muslim politics and the founding of Pakistan. He is interested in the political thought of modern Islam as well as in the transformation of liberal categories and democratic practice in South Asia. Devji’s broader concerns are with ethics and violence in a globalized world, particularly with the thought and practices of Mahatma Gandhi, who was among the earliest and perhaps most perceptive commentator on this predicament of our times.

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