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Theories of the Text: Week Three

Professor Gavin Flood
27 Oct 2011

Related: Literary Theory

How japa changed between the Vedas and the bhakti traditions: the evidence of the Jāpakopākhyāna (Mbh 12.189–93)

Majewski Lecture
Professor John Brockington
24 Oct 2011

The term japa is one that has a long history within the family of Hindu traditions but the difference between the murmuring of Vedic mantras as an accompaniment to sacrificial rituals and the meditative repetition of a divine name in bhakti traditions is considerable. In an attempt to find some evidence for the development process involved, I shall examine theJāpakopākhyāna (MBh 12.189–93), a text which seems in some ways incongruous in its context, and will also survey the occurrence of japa and its cognates throughout theMahābhārata. I seek to unravel the textual history of the passage and the logic of combining its parts, as well as the message that it conveys. The prominence of Brahmā in the passage may form one key to its interpretation, while the fact that the next highest (though much lower) frequency of japa and related terms is in the Nārāyaṇīya seems to offer another clue, especially in conjunction with the significance of japa in the developed Pāñcarātra system.

Professor Brockington is emeritus Professor of Sanskrit in the School of Asian Studies (of which he was the first Head) and an Honorary Fellow in the Centre for South Asian Studies. He has written several books and around 75 articles on his special area of research, the Sanskrit epics, as well as on other topics.   He is the Secretary General of the International Association of Sanskrit Studies and was the chair of the organising committee of the 13th World Sanskrit Conference, held at Edinburgh in July 2006. Among his many publications areThe Sacred Thread: Hinduism in its continuity and diversity, (1981); Righteous Rama: the Evolution of an Epic; Hinduism and Christianity; Epic and Puranic Bibliography (up to 1985) (1992); The Sanskrit Epics (Handbuch der Orientalistik, 2.2.12; A Descriptive Catalogue of the Sanskrit and other Indian Manuscripts of the Chandra Shum Shere Collection in the Bodleian Library, Part II, Epics and PuranasEpic Threads: John Brockington on the Sanskrit Epics, ed. Greg Bailey and Mary Brockington (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2000); Indian Epic Traditions – Past and Present (Papers presented at the 16th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies, Edinburgh, 5–9 September 2000) ed. by Danuta Stasik and John Brockington (2002); The Intimate Other: Love Divine in Indic Religions, ed. by Anna S. King and John Brockington (2005); and Rama the Steadfast: An Early Form of the Ramayana,tr. by John Brockington and Mary Brockington (2006).

Related: Mahabharata, Ritual

Theories of the Text: Week Two

Professor Gavin Flood
20 Oct 2011

Related: General, Philosophy

The Problem of Evil and Western Theodicy: But what says Indian Theism and Non-theism to the challenge?

Shivdasani Lecture
Professor Purushottama Bilimoria
17 Oct 2011

Purushottama Bilimoria, PhD is Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Studies at Deakin University in Australia and Senior Research Fellow, University of Melbourne. Visiting Professor and Lecturer at University of California, Berkeley and Dominican University, San Anselmo, and Shivadasani Fellow of  Oxford University. His areas of specialist research and publications cover classical Indian philosophy and comparative ethics; Continental thought; cross-cultural philosophy of religion, diaspora studies; bioethics, and personal law in India. He is an Editor-in-Chief of Sophia, Journal of Philosophy of Religion, Springer. He also edits a book series with Springer on Sophia: cross-cultural studies in Culture and Traditions, Recent publication is Indian Ethics I, Ashgate 2007; OUP 2008, and Sabdapramana: Word and Knowledge (Testimony) in Indian Philosophy (revised reprint), Delhi: DK PrintWorld 2008; ‘Nietzsche as ‘Europe’s Buddha’ and Asia’s Superman, Sophia, vol 47/3 2008; Postcolonial Philosophy of Religion (with Andrew Irvine, Ken Surin et al) Springer 2009. Teaches and publishes on Hindu religious philosophies. Also works on political philosophy, pertaining to ethics of rights, theories of justice, capabilities, education and gender issues in third world, particularly South Asian, contexts.

Related: Comparative Theology, Hindu Theology

Theories of the Text: Week One

Professor Gavin Flood
13 Oct 2011

Related: Literary Theory

Debatable Devotion: Candravati's Ramayana

Professor Mandakranta Bose
15 Jun 2011

Related: Ramayana

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

Shivdasani Lecture
Professor Joseph T. O’Connell
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.

Related: Religious Studies

Approaches to Religion 4: Semiotics

Professor Gavin Flood
9 Jun 2011

Our last seminar will examine the importance of the philosophy of the sign in the study of religions. A key thinker here who we will look at is Bakhtin introduced to the West by Julia Kristeva.

Related: Religious Studies

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

Shivdasani Lecture
Professor Joseph T. O’Connell
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).

Related: Vaisnava

Approaches to Religion 3: Politics

Professor Gavin Flood
2 Jun 2011

The third seminar will discuss the relation of religion to politics and the place of religion in the public sphere. We will look at the idea of the critique of religion as emancipatory critique (Nietzsche, Foucault), the exclusion of women from the symbolic order (Kristeva, Irigaray) and how this is articulated in India (Manushi). 

Related: Religious Studies

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

Shivdasani Lecture
Professor Joseph T. O’Connell
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.

Related: Vaisnava

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

Shivdasani Lecture
Professor Joseph T. O’Connell
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.

Related: Literature, Vaisnava

Telling the World: Exploring the Cultural and Intellectual Agenda of the Sanskrit Mahabharata

Majewski Lecture
Dr James Hegarty
16 May 2011

In this lecture, I explore the form and function of the Sanskrit Mahabharata. I take up features of its design, its explicit statements about itself and its most prominent themes in order to make some suggestions as to what the Mahabharata sought to do, culturally and intellectually,in early South Asian society. I combine this with an analysis of the presence of the Mahabharata in select literary and epigraphical sources of the first millennium in order to explore the impact of the text from Guptan north India to Kerala and Kashmir. These investigations will be combined with a broader discussion of the role of narrative in the transmission and adaptation of understandings of past, place and preferred ideology within, and potentially beyond, South Asia.

Dr James Hegarty is Senior Lecturer in Indian Religions at Cardiff University. His primary research interest is in the role of religious narrative in the cultural and intellectual history of South Asia. He has published numerous papers on Sanskrit and vernacular narrative materials. His monograph Religion, Narrative and Public Imagination: Past and Place in the Sanskrit Mahabharata is forthcoming with Routledge.

Related: Numismatics, Temple and Text

Approaches to Religion 2: Sociology

Professor Gavin Flood
12 May 2011

In this seminar we will reflect on Sociology as a discourse inseparable from Modernity. We will discuss the key ideas of rationalisation (Weber) and reification (Lukacs, Honneth). We will also consider sociology in the Indian context (Madan). 

Related: Religious Studies

The Relationship Between Religious Experience and Religious Belief: Essentialism, Scholarly Naivety, or Logical Positivism?

Mysticism Seminar/Interdisciplinary Seminar for the Study of Religions
Dr Gregory Shushan
9 May 2011

In recent decades, the study of ‘religious’ or ‘mystical’ experiences has been criticised by postmodern scholars who argue that because all experience is dependent upon language and culture, it is unintelligible to speak at all of some cross-culturally comparable event called ‘religious experience’. Because experience cannot precede culture, such scholars assert that it is ‘naive’ or otherwise methodologically or theoretically unsound to claim that the origins of religious beliefs can lie in ‘religious’ experience. Furthermore, the argument goes, in claiming that there is such a thing as cross-culturally comparable ‘religious’ experience, we leave the realm of the (ostensibly) objective Study of Religions, and cross the boundary into a kind of universalist theology. The issue thus intersects with various other theoretical problems at the core of the Study of Religions, including comparison per se, and views that the term ‘religion’ itself is a theologising construct. In defence of the study of ‘religious’ experience, this paper attempts to demonstrate the weaknesses in these arguments, firstly by showing that they are based upon a number of mutually-reliant but unproven axioms (themselves culturally-situated within a particular anti-scientific academic paradigm); and by giving cross-cultural examples which show a clear connection between ‘religious’ experience and religious beliefs (with particular reference to near-death experiences). 

Dr. Gregory Shushan is Perrott-Warrick Researcher at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, University of Oxford, researching comparative afterlife beliefs in small-scale societies worldwide in the contexts of shamanic and near-death experiences. His book, Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations: Universalism, Constructivism, and Near-Death Experience (Continuum Advances in Religious Studies, 2009) was nominated for the 2010 Grawemeyer Award. 

Related: Comparative Theology, Mysticism, Religious Studies

Approaches to Religion 1: Phenomenology

Professor Gavin Flood
5 May 2011

This seminar will discuss the foundational ideas of the phenomenology of religion derived from Husserl, namely bracketing (the epoche), the reduction to essences, and the transcendental reduction. We will raise questions as to the viability of this approach.

Related: Religious Studies

Hinduism II: Hindu Traditions, Lecture Eight

Professor Gavin Flood
9 Mar 2011

These lectures will begin from where Hinduism 1 left off. We will trace the development of devotion (bhakti) and examine bhakti and yoga in the Bhagavad-gita before moving into the medieval period. Here the lectures will describe some developments of bhakti in vernacular literatures, focusing both on texts that advocate devotion to iconic forms and the later texts that advocate devotion to an absolute without qualities. Here we will also examine the importance of ritual texts and the relation between ritual, devotion, and yoga. We will then trace the themes of liberation and path with examples from selected tantric traditions within Vaisnavism and Saivism. Lastly we will examine the development of Hinduism in the nineteenth century with the Hindu reformers and the development of a politicised Hinduism in the twentieth century.

Related: General

Jalaram Bapa: Vernacular Practice and Belief in the Gujarati Hindu Diaspora

Dr Martin Woods
4 Mar 2011

The scholarly literature concerning Gujarati Hinduism in the U.K. has tended to pay attention to so-called ecumenical, rationalised and representative Hindu beliefs and practices. This has been at the expense of any scholarly enquiry as to the role that regional, vernacular traditions play in the religious lives of Gujarati Hindus in this country. This paper will argue that the Jalaram Bapa tradition, through vernacular practices and beliefs concerning miraculous events and narratives, is offering a contemporary and alternative religious expression to that offered by kind of representative Gujarati Hinduisms located in the U.K. today. Furthermore, it is doing so in a very public manner that appears to validate regional, vernacular traditions as opposed to marginalising or dismissing them. 

 
Dr. Martin Wood is Lecturer in Hinduism and Methodologies in the Study of Religion, Bath Spa University College, Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol. His doctoral research examined Gujarati Hinduism in the U.K. and New Zealand concerning identity, authority and beliefs and practices relating to devotional food offerings. Dr. Woods has now begun for focus his research more specifically on the 18th Century Gujarati saint Jalaram Bapa and the significant tradition that has developed since his death in the Gujarat and the wider Gujarati diaspora. He examines the Jalaram Bapa tradition in relation to other Hinduisms, especially those considered more representative (Swaminarayan, ISKCON) addressing questions of religious identity and presence in the public domain particularly in relation to the interaction between vernacular (miracles, healings, visitations, and possessions) and more rationalised beliefs and practices.

Related: Diaspora

Hinduism II: Hindu Traditions, Lecture Seven

Professor Gavin Flood
2 Mar 2011

These lectures will begin from where Hinduism 1 left off. We will trace the development of devotion (bhakti) and examine bhakti and yoga in the Bhagavad-gita before moving into the medieval period. Here the lectures will describe some developments of bhakti in vernacular literatures, focusing both on texts that advocate devotion to iconic forms and the later texts that advocate devotion to an absolute without qualities. Here we will also examine the importance of ritual texts and the relation between ritual, devotion, and yoga. We will then trace the themes of liberation and path with examples from selected tantric traditions within Vaisnavism and Saivism. Lastly we will examine the development of Hinduism in the nineteenth century with the Hindu reformers and the development of a politicised Hinduism in the twentieth century.

Related: General

Contested Meanings: Pilgrimage and Ritual Space in Bhuban Cave, Assam, India

Majewski Lecture
Dr Arkotong Longkumer
28 Feb 2011

This paper explores a pilgrimage the author undertook with a group of pilgrims to the Bhuban cave in Assam, the assumed starting point of a religious reform movement known as the Heraka. He examines the interaction of the Heraka with different religious groups in the Bhuban cave (various ‘Hindus’, and indigenous religions). Dr. Longkumer is particularly interested in how different communities reify religious identification to the extent that other identities of shared interests attenuate, especially evident in the main ‘cave ritual’. Such encounters, he argues, not only sharpen Heraka identity vis-à-vis other communities, but also emphasise religious boundaries more generally. Such incidents can be read as a complex confluence of reform, intuition, experience and history.

 
Dr. Arkotong Longkumer is a Departmental Lecturer in the Study of Religions at Oxford University. His research interests revolve around the anthropology of religion and history, with a south/southeast Asian focus. He has conducted fieldwork amongst the Nagas of India since 2005 and is currently interested in Naga nationalism, particularly the interaction between religion, nationalism and indigeneity.

Related: Pilgrimage, Ritual

Naming the divine: A History of the Concept of God

God Across Cultures
Dr Philip Kennedy
28 Feb 2011

Wittgenstein once asked, ‘How do I know that two people mean the same when each says he believes in God?’ This seminar will respond to Wittgenstein’s query by sketching the history of the noun ‘God’, and illustrating how, over time, the noun has accrued some strikingly different meanings.

 
Dr Philip Kennedy is fellow of Mansfield College and Lecturer in Theology in the Theology Faculty. He is author of A Modern Introduction to Theology: New Questions for Old Beliefs. London: I.B. Tauris, 2006; ‘God and Creation’, in Mary Catherine Hilkert and Robert J. Schreiter, eds; ‘The Praxis of the Reign of God: An Introduction to the Theology of Edward Schillebeeckx’ (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), pp. 37–58. His research interests include the History of Modern Christian Thought; Christology and the Quests for the Historical Jesus; Liberation Theologies. He is currently working on a book on the history of the idea of God.

Related: Christianity, Comparative Theology

Hinduism II: Hindu Traditions, Lecture Six

Professor Gavin Flood
23 Feb 2011

These lectures will begin from where Hinduism 1 left off. We will trace the development of devotion (bhakti) and examine bhakti and yoga in the Bhagavad-gita before moving into the medieval period. Here the lectures will describe some developments of bhakti in vernacular literatures, focusing both on texts that advocate devotion to iconic forms and the later texts that advocate devotion to an absolute without qualities. Here we will also examine the importance of ritual texts and the relation between ritual, devotion, and yoga. We will then trace the themes of liberation and path with examples from selected tantric traditions within Vaisnavism and Saivism. Lastly we will examine the development of Hinduism in the nineteenth century with the Hindu reformers and the development of a politicised Hinduism in the twentieth century.

Related: General

Religious Experience in Early Buddhism

Interdisciplinary Seminar in the Study of Religions/Mysticism Seminar
Professor Richard Gombrich
18 Feb 2011

This seminar examines accounts of religious experience in early Buddhism as gleaned from our textual sources. Of particular importance here has been the role of meditation and living an upright and ethical life. 

Professor Gombrich was the Boden Professor of Sanskrit for many years. He is a world authority on Buddhism and has written definitive works on early Buddhism and the Theravada tradition. Among his publications are What the Buddha ThoughtHow Buddhism Began andTheravada Buddhism

Related: Buddhism, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

Hinduism II: Hindu Traditions, Lecture Five

Professor Gavin Flood
16 Feb 2011

These lectures will begin from where Hinduism 1 left off. We will trace the development of devotion (bhakti) and examine bhakti and yoga in the Bhagavad-gita before moving into the medieval period. Here the lectures will describe some developments of bhakti in vernacular literatures, focusing both on texts that advocate devotion to iconic forms and the later texts that advocate devotion to an absolute without qualities. Here we will also examine the importance of ritual texts and the relation between ritual, devotion, and yoga. We will then trace the themes of liberation and path with examples from selected tantric traditions within Vaisnavism and Saivism. Lastly we will examine the development of Hinduism in the nineteenth century with the Hindu reformers and the development of a politicised Hinduism in the twentieth century.

Related: General

Hinduism II: Hindu Traditions, Lecture Four

Professor Gavin Flood
9 Feb 2011

These lectures will begin from where Hinduism 1 left off. We will trace the development of devotion (bhakti) and examine bhakti and yoga in the Bhagavad-gita before moving into the medieval period. Here the lectures will describe some developments of bhakti in vernacular literatures, focusing both on texts that advocate devotion to iconic forms and the later texts that advocate devotion to an absolute without qualities. Here we will also examine the importance of ritual texts and the relation between ritual, devotion, and yoga. We will then trace the themes of liberation and path with examples from selected tantric traditions within Vaisnavism and Saivism. Lastly we will examine the development of Hinduism in the nineteenth century with the Hindu reformers and the development of a politicised Hinduism in the twentieth century.

Related: General

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