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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

Yoga and Māyā in the Bhāgavata-purāṇa

Graduate Seminar
Gopal Gupta
3 Feb 2011

Among Puranic literature, the Bhagavata Purana has been most influential, both in intellectual circles and in popular Hinduism. The Bhagavata offers a unique form of yoga that is indebted to earlier texts, such as the Mahabharata and Patañjali’s Yoga-sutra, but is nevertheless distinct from them in an important way—the Bhagavata blends its characteristic emotional bhakti with the otherwise staid practice of yoga. This paper argues that the shift from the normative bhakti of the Mahabharata to the emotional bhakti of the Bhagavata is made possible primarily through the concept of yoga-maya. The paper examines the relationship between yoga, the yogi, yoga-maya, and yogesvara in the two texts, and shows that without maya, the intensity of the emotional yoga between the devotee and Krsna found in the Bhagavata cannot take place. While non-dualist Vedanta philosophy often sees maya as a negative force, this paper argues the Bhagavata affirms just the opposite – the devotee’s place under the veil of maya is a desirable situation as it allows for the experience of intimate love.

 
Gopal Gupta is currently pursuing a D.Phil. in Hindu Studies at the University of Oxford.

Related: Bhagavata, Yoga

Mysterium Horrendum: Mysticism & the Negative Numinous

Interdisciplinary Seminar in the Study of Religions/Mysticism Seminar
Dr Simon Podmore
28 Jan 2011

According to Rudolf Otto’s ‘Idea of the Holy’, while elements of a so-called ‘mysticism of horror’ are well-acknowledged in Hindu traditions, this remains an under-recognised, yet undeniably present, strain in Western Christian mysticism. This paper explores Otto’s account of the ‘negative numinous’ with specific reference to the under-examined notion of the mysterium horrendum: a variant of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans in which the element of dread is ‘cut loose’ and ‘intensified’ to the point of ‘the demonic’. Drawing particular attention to accounts of the darkness, absence, and wrath of God in Western Christian mysticism, the lecture questions the essential relation between the demonic and the divine elements encountered in the numinous.

Dr Simon D. Podmore is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Theology and Gordon Milburn Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College. He is author of Kierkegaard & the Self Before God: Anatomy of the Abyss (Indiana University Press, 2011). His current research explores notions of ‘spiritual struggle’ in Western Christian mysticism.

Related: Christianity, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

Hinduism II: Hindu Traditions, Lecture Two

Professor Gavin Flood
26 Jan 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

Development and elaboration of Śaivasiddhānta doctrines in the Tamil country: Śivāgrayogī’s contribution in the middle of 16th century CE

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr T. N. Ganeshan
29 Nov 2010

The sixteenth century in south India witnessed enormous output of literature composed in Sanskrit on many subjects and systems of philosophy. Sivagrayogi was a very great Saivasiddhanta teacher belonging to this period who had enriched the Saivasiddhanta literature by composing many independent texts as well as commentaries. Some of them are voluminous and they have been exerting great sway among the devotees and learned scholars. This seminar will analyse briefly his contribution for the development of Sivasiddhanta during the pre-modern period.

Related: Saiva

Text Migration: Translation and Modern Reception of the Bhāgavata Purāna in Bengal and Beyond

Dr Ferdinando Sardella
25 Nov 2010

This event marks the launching of a newly started project at the OCHS called "Bengali Vaishnavism in the Modern Period", which undertakes the mapping, collection, translation and investigation of literature and other relevant material related to or dealing with the modern development of Caitanya Vaisnavism in Bengal from the late 18th century to the present. The presentation addresses in particular the migration of the Bhagavata Purana  - one of the core theological text of Vaishnavism/Hinduism in India - as a sacred text to the West during the 19th and 20th century. It is divided into three sections: the first presents the historical context for the reception of the Bhagavata in 19th century Bengal—at the time the most prominent intellectual centre of the British Empire in South Asia—among the Bengali middle classe and some of the controversies that surrounded its popular usage as a sacred text. The second discusses the text as part of a process of religious and cultural negotiation between India and the West, with particular reference to Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati (1874-1937) - the founder in Calcutta of a modern religious institution called the Gaudiya Math - and his successors. The third section will trace the gradual transformation of the Bhagavata from a sacred text read by the literate among the Hindus to an instrument for diffusion of religious ideas and practice during the period following World War II. The presentation ends with a brief discussion of the function of the text within its indigenous religious tradition, and the ways in which this function has transformed through the dynamic social and cultural interactions between India and the West.

Related: Bhagavata, Modern Hinduism

To Be or Not-To-Be: The Rise of Durga in Bengal

Dr Susmita Chatterjee
25 Nov 2010

According to popular belief, the celebration of Durga Puja in Bengal, as the great festival of Bengalis, started roughly from the late medieval period onwards. This paper shows that the celebration of the great festival of goddesses in autumn had been prevalent in the region for more than fifteen hundred centuries, and that the practice itself was pluralistic. It looks into four Upapuranas of early medieval Bengal and delineates the politics of the appropriation of local goddesses by brahmanism. The paper argues that the process of emergence of Durga as the brahmanical Great goddess of the region was essentially linked with the loss of the local goddess matrix, and the meanings and symbolisms related to it. Brahmanical patriarchy in early medieval Bengal retained the local goddesses as the primary symbol of the Ultimate, but played down their earlier subjectivities and the cultural ethos which had sustained them. The paper focuses on four brahmanical strategies through which the making of Durga was achieved: ‘identification’, ‘hyphenated- disjuncture’, ‘disembodiment’, and ‘circumscription of the goddesses within family relationships’. It explores traits and trails of other local goddesses that were either wiped off or modified in the process and locates various levels of changes in the mythic and ritual content of the goddesses in the Upapuranas.

 
Susmita Chatterjee is a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, the University of Edinburgh. Currently, she is working on the the ritual of Kumari Puja in contemporary Bengal and exploring discursive modalities of treating the female as divine. She has completed her Ph.D. at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Her Ph.D. thesis, entitled, "The Politics of Subordination: Transformations of the goddess and worship of Durga in Bengal" focused on the making of Durga as the brahmanical Great Goddess of the region at the cost of the local goddess matrix and its cultural ethos. It looked into the changing mythic and ritual content of the worship of the goddesses in four Sakta Upapuranas of Bengal and historicized the transformations in the phenomenological and gender roles of the goddesses in the context of early medieval Bengal.

Related: Sakta

Hinduism I: Sources and Development - 7: Liberation through Yoga

Professor Gavin Flood
24 Nov 2010

These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions. The lectures will include an introduction to Hindu philosophy.

Related: Yoga

Parallel Systematisation of Śaivism based on the Veda and the Purāṇa: Haradatta, Appayadīkṣita and Nīlakaṇṭhadīkṣita

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr T. N. Ganeshan
22 Nov 2010

In the 16th century there was a revival of Śaivism fully based on the Vedas and the Purāņas. Also to refute the attack of Vaishnava teachers and to firmly establish that Śiva is the supreme reality expounded in the Vedas and the allied texts great Śaiva teachers such as Haradatta, Appayadīkşita, Nīlakaņţhadīkşita, to cite a few, have composed many texts. A brief analysis of these important but less studied texts will be the subject of this lecture.

Dr. T. Ganesan is a researcher at the French Institute of Pondichery where he is also Director of the History of Śaiva Siddhānta project. He is an expert in the Sanskrit and Tamil sources of the Śaivism generally and the Śaiva Siddhānta in particular and is engaged in writing a history of Śaivism and preparing a critical edition of the Sūkmāgama. Among his recent publications are Two Saiva teachers of the sixteenth century. Nigamajnana I and his disciple Nigamajnana II (IFP – Publications Hors série n° 9, 2009), xviii, pp. 274;  Sarvajnanottaragama (Yogapada) with the commentary of Aghorasivacharya, critically edited for the first time with introduction and Tamil translation, (Sri Aghorasivacharya Trust, Chennai, 2009); and the Acintyavisvasadakhyagama (2 chapters) along with the Tamil versified adaptation Civapunniyattelivu of Nigamajnanadesika, (Sri Aghorasivacharya Trust, Chennai, 2009).

Related: Saiva

Hinduism I: Sources and Development - 6: The Bhagavad-gita

Professor Gavin Flood
17 Nov 2010

These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions. The lectures will include an introduction to Hindu philosophy.

Related: General

Hinduism I: Sources and Development - 5: The Epics and the Early Development of Theism

Professor Gavin Flood
10 Nov 2010

These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions. The lectures will include an introduction to Hindu philosophy.

Related: General

Ñāṉāmirtam: The first available Tamil systematisation of Śaivāgama doctrines

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr T. N. Ganeshan
8 Nov 2010

Saivism with its important branches such as Pasupata and the Saivasiddhanta was widely popular in many parts of India from the beginning of the first millennium of the common era. Of them, the Saivasiddhanta had many royal dynasties as its support. The basic tenets of the system were enuncitated in the canonical texts called Agama believed to have been revealed by Siva Himself. In the course of its spread to south India and especially to the Tamil country the essential teachings of the Agama-s were taught by the teachers to their disciples. In order to easily grasp those essentials one Vagisa belonging to the 12th century had composed a Tamil digest called Ñanamirtam basing on the Agamas. This is the only available first Tamil text belonging to such an early period which has been influencing the subsequent developments of Saivasiddhanta. A comparative and analytical study of this text will be a very fruitful one which would help trace the early development of Saivasiddhanta

Related: Saiva, Tantra

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