This series of lectures continues the series started in Michaelmas Term 2008.
The importance of religion Lecture 2: Religion and literature
Related: Religious Studies
Hindu understandings of God 1: Ideas of God in Hinduism
We find the idea of God in different religions and it is theologically interesting that semantic analogues of the category appear across the boundaries of traditions. This series of lectures explores Hindu ideas of God and raises questions about the meaning of God in human traditions and the idea of comparative theology.
Related: Hindu Theology
Ontology of Bhartrhari
In Bhartrhari, we find the only exception who delves into explaining nature of mantra-s. He formalizes the Mantrabhaga through his unique theory of aksara-brahman or Sabdadvaita without violating the cardinal form of ekavakyata in tune with the traditionalists view. He spells this ‘linguistic contiguity’ through statements like ‘anadi-nidhanam brahma sabdadvaitam yadaksaram’ etc. The concept of aksara unfolded in Paniniya-Varttika and Mahabhasya is also found to be very much relevant in the context of Bhartrhari’s Sabdadvaitavada.
The importance of religion 5: Religion and art
Shifting from explicit politics to implicit cultural politics, this lecture will focus on the relation of religion to art, raising questions about how religious art expresses tradition and links in to a cosmology absent from secular art. Questions of aesthetics and function will be raised. An exhibition in London by Gilbert and George in January 2006 presented religion through a pastiche of images that showed religions to be essentially oppressive. In the context of this radical juxtaposition between secular art in late modernity and religious art, the lecture will show how the problem of aesthetic appreciation in tradition and modernity is linked to the problem of the world seen as cosmology or as stripped of cosmological understanding. Thus icons, cathedrals and images of gods function only within religious cosmology in contrast to the work of Gilbert and George which draws on an aesthetic devoid of, and antithetical to, religious cosmologies.
Related: Religious Studies
Ontological Issues in Samhita
In Indian tradition, oral transmission of the Veda unfolds the mystery of perfect linguistic behaviour, i.e., maintaining formal contiguity of syllabic structures or ‘ekavakyata’ and thereby avoiding possibilities of ‘arthabheda’ or misunderstanding. Reasons for such linguistic structure have been well expressed in Taittiriya Aranyaka followed by the vedangas, namely, siksa, pratisakhya, vyakarana and nirukta. Illustrations in these texts reveal the fact that well-formed syllabic structures, learnt and pronounced in a fixed order, traditionally known as ‘krama’ or ‘anupurvi’ delivers the intended meaning as well as maintain the sanctity or authenticity of the Veda. Varna-s or aksara-s happen to be the micro units. On pronunciation in contiguity they form a string known as vakya, which also encases pada-s or short strings of varna-s. Formation of such syllabic strings has been noted as samhita, sandhi or santana in Taittiriiya Aaranyaka followed by Rk-pratisakhya and nirukta. In this context we may also quote the Panini-sutra– ‘parah sannikarsah samhita’. Paninian grammar expresses an algorithm of these syllabic forms in about 4000 sutra-s or operative rules composed as short strings. Narration of Mahesvara-sutra-s and discussions in Paspasha-kanda of the Mahabhasya distinctly expresses the motive and analytic mode of scanning sabda available in the Bhasa. While the Mahesvara-sutras display formal conjugation of varna-s, the vartika – ‘siddhe sabdarthasambandhe’ – brings forth nature of sabda, artha and their sambandha in contguity, which was presumably taken up by Bhartrhari on exposition of Paniniiya-darsana at a later stage (ref. Sad-darshanasamuccaya by Haribhadra Suri).
Two Kashmiri lives in the Calukya Deccan
From the eleventh century, there is evidence of a remarkable pattern of the circulation of goods, men, and texts between two seemingly unlikely corners of southern Asia: the Valley of Kashmir and the western Deccan (in what is now Karnataka). The broad contours of this mobile world can be traced through a variety of methods, including political history, numismatics, archeology, and the history of art.
The importance of religion 4: Religion and politics
Religion has always been deeply implicated with politics. While the claim of these lectures is that the religious imperative cannot be reduced to power, the formation of religions as institutions has always been closely implicated in the formation of states and the legitimising of particular social and political structures. Many contemporary thinkers, deriving inspiration from genealogical thinkers such as Foucault, claim that religion can be understood in terms of power relationships and that the discourse of religion hides a will to power. By contrast many religious communities claim that religion is the well spring of their life’s energy and that tradition cannot be explained only in terms of a politics of representation.
Related: Religious Studies
Cognition and Knowledge
This lecture will continue the themes of the first. Here we will focus on the process of encoding/decoding (sabda-vyavahara) following Navya Nyaya language and methodology
The importance of religion 3: Religion, text, and subjectivity
A religious community is defined and adapts to present conditions by the way it reads or receives its sacred texts realised in the present in a ritual space and internalised within subjectivity. The self becomes an index of tradition and subjectivity is formed through repeated liturgical acts which are enactments or embodiments of the revelation or text (broadly defined and not restricted to written document). The lecture will explore the internalisation of the text through the ritual process as the expression or realisation of the religious imperative. The realisation of the text in present speech (and it can only be realised in the present here and now) is accompanied by the internalisation of the text in subjectivity and also by the externalisation of the text in ethics, art and politics: the religious imperative comes to be articulated through ethical behaviour defined by a community, artistic expression and political institution. The ritual space within which the text is realised and brought to life for a present speech community, along with the internalisation of text and tradition, is the site of transcendence as instantiated in the history of religions. In technical terms from Linguistic Anthropology this is the subordination of the ‘indexical-I’ to the ‘I’ contained within the text, the implied reader or ‘I of discourse’ (Urban ‘The ‘I’ of Discourse’). The self of religions is formed through revelation mediated by tradition and realised in specific acts of ‘reading’ or the reception of texts. The argument will be that the central aspect of the religious self is the internalisation of the text and the alignment with the narrative of one’s own life with the tradition. This is to see life as quest for meaning through the internalisation of tradition. This internalisation is also an orientation towards the future.
Related: Religious Studies
The Lion of Durga
Dr Robinson did his D.Phil. research on the Worship of Clay Images in West Bengal. An important part of this was the study of Hindu iconography and the festivals of West Bengal, including Durga puja. Recently he has become a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and is working on an article on an ivory figure of Durga in the V&A which was part of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Photographs taken during fieldwork in Bengal and amongst the Bengali community in the UK are now in the British Museum Asia collection and in the archives of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. Items such as pata paintings and saras collected during my research in Bengal are also in the Asia collection of the British Museum. He is currently a teacher of Religious Education in Oxfordshire. His fascination with Durga started from a very early age in India where he was born and brought up and he is now particularly interested in researching Durga puja in Calcutta during the British period from 18th–20th centuries.
The importance of religion 2: Towards a theory of religious action
On the one hand there is a critique of religion that sees religion in terms of propositions about the nature of the world. On the other there is a reaction to such claims by the rational defence of religion. But both positions fail to understand the true nature and function of religions as action and responses to life, as ways of life and kinds of action that provide frameworks for living and dying, especially in the context of late modernity and what Richard Roberts has called ‘the reconfiguring of the religious field.’ This lecture develops the idea of religion as action which is also an orientation towards meaning and transcendence; an orientation to understanding life as a journey for both individuals and communities, a journey that can have an end in a ‘liberation’ or a ‘heaven’ or some variation of an ideal of perfection. Religion is always teleological and orientated towards transcendence of the human condition; religion is predominantly soteriological. The theoretical apparatus behind some of this thinking lies in Bakhtin’s Towards a Philosophy of the Act in which he presents a distinction between the world of culture (which contains various theoretical frameworks such as philosophy, sociology, politics) and the world of life, the world in which we live our lives and die and in which acts are accomplished once and for all (and only once) as being is unrepeatable action (Being-as-event). The theory of religious action I am proposing claims that religious action is a penetration of being-as-event, that it is not restricted to the world of culture but is the only practice and discourse that attempts to penetrate, order and make sense of world of life. This world of life is a synonym for the strangeness of the world.
Related: Religious Studies
Navya Nyaya language and methodology: Padartha
The Indian model of philosophical analysis, technically devised by the Neo-Logicians, known as the Navya Nyaya school, places forth a PRAMA-oriented picture of the World (visva). This world features four basic constituents stated as (i) pramata, the knower, (ii) prameya, the knowables, (iii) pramana, the process of knowing, and, (iv) pramiti, the knowledge achieved by the pramana. Nothing in this world is left out of these broad categories, i.e., each and every entity in this world must find its place in any of those characters noted above. To speak more specifically, all worldly entities must fall either under the category of prameya, the knowables or under pramana, the process of knowing; in fact while we speak or even think about the process of knowing, pramana also happens to fall under the character of prameya. Hence, to take a definite look into this character – prameya, was of utmost importance for the Indian philosophers to get a clear picture of this world. Neo-logicians adopted the Vaisesika theory of padartha and developed it through linguistic elaboration since for them this world appeared to be not only a prameya but also as abhidheya – verbalisable – which was accepted by all the philosophical schools. Practically, knowability and verbalisability are two basic properties of this world of our experience, and, virtually our experiences tell us how we know and how we express our experiences through language or try to communicate with others. The neo-logicians marked the process of knowing as ‘encoding’, i.e., internalization of the external world, while the process of expressing verbally was marked as ‘decoding’ or ‘sabda-vyavahara’. Before we go into details of these two processes, a holistic picture of this world as ‘padartha’ following the Neo-logicians will be discussed.
The importance of religion 1: Religion and reductionism
Two tendencies in recent years have sought to provide explanations of religion in terms of a naturalist or eliminative reductionism, the realm of science, on the one hand, and a cultural reductionism, the realm of politics, on the other. Eliminative reductionism primarily refers to theories of cognition and evolutionary psychology along with their philosophical justification. By cultural reductionism I mean accounts that see religion only in terms of a politics of representation and structures of power. On this view, religion is a disempowering hegemony caused by a ‘false consciousness’ that has served the interests of the rich and powerful. Both kinds of reductionism share an incredulity to religious truth claims and offer explanation and critique that are rigorously externalist in their explanation of religion and thoroughly materialist in their ontological and ethical pre-commitments. On reductionist accounts, to explain religion is to locate a cause (in cognition, genetics, socio-political structures) and to explain religion is to present an external account of it, often antithetical to the internal claims of traditions. This understanding of explanation has been the predominant model in the natural sciences from Bacon through to the social sciences of our own time. Even Theology traditionally understood claimed to explain religion in this way, locating the cause of religion in God. Scientific explanations have generally been antithetical to Theology in locating causes of religion in nature and claiming superiority to theological accounts because, unlike such accounts, they are falsifiable and have predictive power. Both eliminative and cultural reductionisms offer external accounts of religion through the location of cause, the former in nature the latter in the genealogy of cultural politics, and so do not engage seriously with traditions’ claims and concerns.
Related: Religious Studies
Introduction to Sanskrit metrics and correct recitation of Sanskrit verses: Session three
An Introduction of ritual and philosophy of the Vaishnavas based especially on the Pancaratra system
Hinduism in contemporary Indian cinema: Popular travesty or new theology?
Introduction to Sanskrit metrics and correct recitation of Sanskrit verses: Session two
Maps, mother goddess, and martyrdom in modern India
Methods of chanting various Vedic metrical and prose texts with their phonetic variations
Hinduism II: Yoga, Bhakti, and Tantra: Part 8
Hinduism II: Yoga, Bhakti, and Tantra: Part 7