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Forthcoming lectures

Making the Implicit Explicit: Emplotment as Saṃsāra and Soteriological Method in Advaita Vedānta

Early Modern Hindu Theology Seminars
Dr James Madaio
Monday, 2 May 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

In this paper I explore emplotment as a means of re-framing the Advaita Vedāntin account of soteriology and enworlded subjectivity. I argue that there is a narrative hermeneutical framework and self-reflexive theological method implicit in the Advaita Vedāntic tradition, particularly as articulated by Vidyāraṇya, a fourteenth century Śaṃkarācārya from Śṛṅgeri. In conversation with contemporary cognitive narratology, I draw out the Advaita Vedāntic understanding of saṃsāra and soteriology on narrative grounds, or what I call emplotment1 and emplotment2. I argue that this approach is engendered by the tradition itself and provides a way of not merely thinking about the Advaitin project but on terms with it. This conceptual framework serves as my own method to understanding the theological enterprise of Vidyāraṇya, who, I argue elsewhere, utilizes narrative methods across the theological modalities of his Jīvanmuktiviveka.

James Madaio is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at New Europe College in Bucharest and was recently awarded his Ph.D. from the University of Manchester. 

Readings in Phenomenology: Session two

Dr Jessica Frazier and Lucian Wong
Thursday, 5 May 2016 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
OCHS Library

In the early twentieth century Phenomenology was considered a vibrant fresh approach to reality, with the power to revitalise human engagement with the world. Martin Heidegger's rethinking of metaphysics became central to this project. Taking his cue from Nietzsche, Heidegger argued that Western philosophy since Plato had been dogged by an obsession with finding an indubitable foundation for knowledge, and has needed to achieve a radical reorientation of man’s relation to the world – something he tried to achieve in his own work.

In this term’s Readings in Phenomenology we will explore the theme of the critique of metaphysics in Nietzsche, and the Heidegger's attempt to revive philosophy. We will begin by reading excerpts from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, and we will then move on to read Heidegger's Letter on Humanism in which he attempts to move beyond metaphysics after Being and Time, and his poetic essay Building Dwelling Thinking in which he tries to evoke a more authentic and attentive way of 'dwelling' in the world. 

Readings in Middle Bengali Texts: Session two

Lucian Wong
Friday, 6 May 2016 - 11:00am to 12:00pm
OCHS Library

We will read sections from key devotional and theological Vaiṣṇava texts in Bengali from the early modern period and discuss their meaning. Some proficiency in Bengali is a requirement.

The juiced-up body: A Śākta anthropology?

Gitte Poulsen
Wednesday, 11 May 2016 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm
OCHS Library

This presentation in the Śākta Traditions Seminar will ask and consider the question if there, in the early and medieval Śākta tantric traditions, existed a distinctive Śākta anthropology that differed from other contemporary traditions, and if so, how this model was distinctive from other competing systems from that period. The focus will mainly be placed on the practices and texts of the Kulamarga and the early haṭha- and layayoga corpus, in which the latter describes a more Śākta-oriented system that differs from the bindudhārana system of early haṭhayoga.

Gitte Poulsen is a MA student in Sanskrit and Religious Studies from Aarhus University, and a visiting student at the OCHS. Her field of interests are mainly early- and medieval Śākta tantric traditions, demonology, phenomenology and hermeneutics.

Readings in Phenomenology: Session three

Dr Jessica Frazier and Lucian Wong
Thursday, 12 May 2016 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
OCHS Library

In the early twentieth century Phenomenology was considered a vibrant fresh approach to reality, with the power to revitalise human engagement with the world. Martin Heidegger's rethinking of metaphysics became central to this project. Taking his cue from Nietzsche, Heidegger argued that Western philosophy since Plato had been dogged by an obsession with finding an indubitable foundation for knowledge, and has needed to achieve a radical reorientation of man’s relation to the world – something he tried to achieve in his own work.

In this term’s Readings in Phenomenology we will explore the theme of the critique of metaphysics in Nietzsche, and the Heidegger's attempt to revive philosophy. We will begin by reading excerpts from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, and we will then move on to read Heidegger's Letter on Humanism in which he attempts to move beyond metaphysics after Being and Time, and his poetic essay Building Dwelling Thinking in which he tries to evoke a more authentic and attentive way of 'dwelling' in the world. 

The Tantric Mandala of Srisailam Temple and the Religious World of Saivas and Saktas

Shivadasani Seminar
Prabhavati C. Reddy
Thursday, 12 May 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

This seminar focuses on various aspects of the Tantric mandala of Srisailam and the religious culture of Saiva and Sakta communities as is demonstrated in textual sources as well as hundreds of images depicted on the Prakara enclosure of the temple complex. The iconological patterns and symbolism of the images suggest that a Tantric mandala of Siva/Bhairava and Goddess Durga was created to represent a particular body of religious systems, cosmology, mysticism, visualization of deities and esoteric practices of Saivas and Sakta groups between the seventh and the fifteenth centuries. The mandala helps us to understand the ways Tantrikas conceptualized Srisailam as the macrocosmic universe of Siva and Sakti, and their religious worldview based on the soteriological goals to gain both worldly and supernatural enjoyments (bhukti) and powers (siddhis) as well as liberation in this life (jivanmukti). This seminar explores four facets of Tantric religious culture in order to 1) establish the Saiva-Sakta cultic connections and religious practices of Bhairava and Durga and the cult of Virabhadra and Bhadrakali 2) explore the goddess-oriented Sakta traditions such as the tribal connections of Durga prior to her transformation as the Great Goddess of Sanskrit tradition, the worship of seven mothers (saptamatrikas), the village goddess Camunda and Bhairavi, the goddess of Tantras 3) establish the development of esoteric practices of “mystical physiology” through the subtle body of energy system (cakras) to obtain either supernatural powers and to achieve god consciousness, the kundalini practice for the union of Siva and Sakti energies, and the Tantric visualization and meditation practices of Sadasiva and 4) the use of yantras, mandalas, lingas and images in meditation and worship. 

Prabhavati C. Reddy is an Adjunct Faculty member of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in Asian Art History from the University of Texas-Austin, and an M.A and M.Phil. in Ancient History and Archaeology from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. She has previously taught at George Washington University and was a two-year Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University where she taught in the Department of Religious Studies. She specializes in Hindu traditions and is interested in the historical development of sectarian traditions with reference to constructive theological frameworks and syncretism, religious authority and identity, and conflict and resolution in response to sociological and political processes. She is the author of Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India (Routledge, 2014) and has published several articles on Indian art and Indian diaspora/Hindu temples in North America. She is currently working on two books entitled, The Tantra and Siddha Traditions at Srisailam: Kundalini and Hatha Yoga Practices in Medieval India and Vaisnava Rituals and Sacred Images. She has lectured at universities in both the U.S and India as well as has presented papers at professional conferences. 

The Celestial Dolphin, an Upaniṣadic Puzzle, and the First Incarnation of Viṣṇu

Wahlstrom Lecture
Prof. Diwakar Acharya
Thursday, 12 May 2016 - 4:00pm
OCHS Library

Early in the Indian tradition the dolphin is deified and elevated to heaven as a constellation that housed the old polestar Thuban in its tail. It is venerated in different ages as bráhman, Brahmā Prajāpati, and Viṣṇu. But in later times the same is generalized as a fish, or sometimes in other contexts as a crocodile. The Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa preserves the story of the deification of the dolphin. The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa narrates a story of the rescue of Vaivasvata Manu from a devastating flood by a dolphin (jhaṣá), described there as an extraordinary fish. This fish is identified in the Mahābhārata as Brahmā Prajāpati in disguise, but in Purāṇic and other similar sources it is depicted as the foremost incarnation of Viṣṇu. In this lecture a number of Vedic and Puranic passages related to these issues will be discussed. An enigmatic passage from the Bṛhad Āraṇyaka Upaniṣad (BĀU), too, will be read showing how this passage enigmatically equates the celestial dolphin with the central vital function in the human body. To understand the saga of the dolphin, iconography and realia will also be discussed.

Diwakar Acharya is the new Spalding Professorship of Eastern Religions and Ethics and a fellow of All Souls College. His research covers a wide range of topics in Indian religious and philosophical traditions, Sanskrit literature, and epigraphy.

Readings in Middle Bengali Texts: Session three

Lucian Wong
Friday, 13 May 2016 - 11:00am to 12:00pm
OCHS Library

We will read sections from key devotional and theological Vaiṣṇava texts in Bengali from the early modern period and discuss their meaning. Some proficiency in Bengali is a requirement.

Śaivism and the Bhāgavata Purāṇa

Early Modern Hindu Theology Seminars
Dr Anand Venkatkrishnan
Monday, 16 May 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa (BhP) is primarily considered the prerogative of Vaiṣṇava religious communities. This paper complicates that commonplace historiography by exploring what the BhP meant to a group of Śaivas in Kerala in the fifteenth century. I locate these Śaivas at the nexus of a number of philosophical and religious trends: the confluence of Vedic and non-Vedic non-dualism, the encounter of a Kashmiri and a southern discourse on bhakti, and the proliferation of stotras, or praise-poetry, of both Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava persuasions. Ultimately I attempt to understand the local contours of Śaiva ecumenicism: one that engaged with the core texts of Vaiṣṇavism not as subordinate in a hierarchically inclusive series, or as subsumed within the universalism of non-dualist philosophy, but as canonical and liberating in their own right.

Anand Venkatkrishnan is Asoke Kumar Sarkar Junior Research Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford. He received his PhD in South Asian Religions from Columbia University (2015), and a BA in Classics from Stanford University (2010). His research interests include the intersection between religious movements and scholarly pedagogy, Indian intellectual history, and the early modern world.

Readings in Phenomenology: Session four

Dr Jessica Frazier and Lucian Wong
Thursday, 19 May 2016 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
OCHS Library

In the early twentieth century Phenomenology was considered a vibrant fresh approach to reality, with the power to revitalise human engagement with the world. Martin Heidegger's rethinking of metaphysics became central to this project. Taking his cue from Nietzsche, Heidegger argued that Western philosophy since Plato had been dogged by an obsession with finding an indubitable foundation for knowledge, and has needed to achieve a radical reorientation of man’s relation to the world – something he tried to achieve in his own work.

In this term’s Readings in Phenomenology we will explore the theme of the critique of metaphysics in Nietzsche, and the Heidegger's attempt to revive philosophy. We will begin by reading excerpts from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, and we will then move on to read Heidegger's Letter on Humanism in which he attempts to move beyond metaphysics after Being and Time, and his poetic essay Building Dwelling Thinking in which he tries to evoke a more authentic and attentive way of 'dwelling' in the world. 

Matter and Religion Seminar

Dr Donovan Schaeffer, Dr Jessica Frazier, Dr Jonathan Duquette
Thursday, 19 May 2016 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
OCHS Library

Matter is one of most familiar yet obscure concepts in the modern western account of the world: it is widely taken to explain the very nature of existence, and it has become a pillar of the secular-scientific worldview. Nevertheless the history of 'matter' reveals a complicated genealogy of classical concepts concerning atoms, energy, and substance, combined with theological debates about the mysterious status of the reality that surrounds us. Through three short papers and an open discussion, this seminar will explore the concepts and controversies that surround the notion of matter. Spanning western and Indian cultures, and touching on the disenchantment of the world, the disjunction of secular and sacred reality, we will seek to reconsider the pivotal position of materiality in our understanding of the world.

Readings in Middle Bengali Texts: Session four

Lucian Wong
Friday, 20 May 2016 - 11:00am to 12:00pm
OCHS Library

We will read sections from key devotional and theological Vaiṣṇava texts in Bengali from the early modern period and discuss their meaning. Some proficiency in Bengali is a requirement.

Readings in Phenomenology: Session five

Dr Jessica Frazier and Lucian Wong
Thursday, 26 May 2016 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
OCHS Library

In the early twentieth century Phenomenology was considered a vibrant fresh approach to reality, with the power to revitalise human engagement with the world. Martin Heidegger's rethinking of metaphysics became central to this project. Taking his cue from Nietzsche, Heidegger argued that Western philosophy since Plato had been dogged by an obsession with finding an indubitable foundation for knowledge, and has needed to achieve a radical reorientation of man’s relation to the world – something he tried to achieve in his own work.

In this term’s Readings in Phenomenology we will explore the theme of the critique of metaphysics in Nietzsche, and the Heidegger's attempt to revive philosophy. We will begin by reading excerpts from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, and we will then move on to read Heidegger's Letter on Humanism in which he attempts to move beyond metaphysics after Being and Time, and his poetic essay Building Dwelling Thinking in which he tries to evoke a more authentic and attentive way of 'dwelling' in the world. 

The Vaisnava Appropriation of Vedic Fires in the Vaikhanasa Tradition: A New Ritual System for Image Worship

Shivdasani Lecture
Prabhavati C. Reddy
Thursday, 26 May 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
OCHS Library

The Vaikhanasas are a small South Indian community of Vaisnava Brahmins who have traditionally engaged in conducting temple worship by following their distinctive ritual system. The name Vaikhanasa derives from Sage Vikhanas, who is attributed with the authorship of the Vaikhanasa Sutras and with the founding of the Vaikhanasa School. The Vaikhanasa regards itself as part of the Vaisnava tradition orthodoxy because of its close adherence to Vedic religion and its presence within the Taittiriya School of the Black Yajurveda. The Vaikhanasa ritual literature on domestic and temple worship both in text and practice reflect this tradition’s strong influences from the Srauta sacrificial cult and its fire rituals. This lecture will explore the ways in which the concept of Vedic fires is appropriated in the typical Vaisnava way by formulating a new ritual system for image worship (samurtarcana) in a temple setting within the Vaikhanasa School. We will examine the concepts of Triple Fires (tretagni) and Five Fires (pancagni) within the context of triple images (bimbatrayi) and fivefold images (pancabera). Also considered are the ways in which the Vedic ideas of fire sacrifice are rearticulated with new meanings and interpretations for the theistic, temple-based religion of Visnu as Venkatesvara. 

Prabhavati C. Reddy is an Adjunct Faculty member of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in Asian Art History from the University of Texas-Austin, and an M.A and M.Phil. in Ancient History and Archaeology from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. She has previously taught at George Washington University and was a two-year Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University where she taught in the Department of Religious Studies. She specializes in Hindu traditions and is interested in the historical development of sectarian traditions with reference to constructive theological frameworks and syncretism, religious authority and identity, and conflict and resolution in response to sociological and political processes. She is the author of Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India (Routledge, 2014) and has published several articles on Indian art and Indian diaspora/Hindu temples in North America. She is currently working on two books entitled, The Tantra and Siddha Traditions at Srisailam: Kundalini and Hatha Yoga Practices in Medieval India and Vaisnava Rituals and Sacred Images. She has lectured at universities in both the U.S and India as well as has presented papers at professional conferences. 

Readings in Middle Bengali Texts: Session five

Lucian Wong
Friday, 27 May 2016 - 11:00am
OCHS Library

We will read sections from key devotional and theological Vaiṣṇava texts in Bengali from the early modern period and discuss their meaning. Some proficiency in Bengali is a requirement.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must write poetry: Language, poetics, and theology in the works of Kavikarṇapūra

Early Modern Hindu Theology Seminars
Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
Monday, 30 May 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

In a tradition that exhorts constant praise of God's divine play—like the Hindu devotional tradition inspired by Caitanya—there may seem little room for an apophatic theology. Yet to understand the works of Kavikarṇapūra (sixteenth century), one of the most prominent Sanskrit poets of the Caitanya Vaiṣṇava tradition, one has to read his poetry in the light of Vedāntic apophatic thought reaching back to the Upaniṣads. This lecture will examine the unique style of Kavikarṇapūra's magnum opus, the Ānanda-vṛndāvana-campū, a lengthy retelling of the early life of Kṛṣṇa, through an analysis of his philosophy of language, his innovative poetics, and his theology, and will argue that, in Kavikarṇapūra's mind, the way words can refer meaningfully to the indescribable reality of God is through the ineffable experience (anubhava) that poetry can generate.

Rembert Lutjeharms (DPhil, Oxford 2010) is the Librarian at the OCHS and a Tutor in Hinduism at the Faculty of Theology and Religion.

Readings in Phenomenology: Session six

Dr Jessica Frazier and Lucian Wong
Thursday, 2 June 2016 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
OCHS Library

In the early twentieth century Phenomenology was considered a vibrant fresh approach to reality, with the power to revitalise human engagement with the world. Martin Heidegger's rethinking of metaphysics became central to this project. Taking his cue from Nietzsche, Heidegger argued that Western philosophy since Plato had been dogged by an obsession with finding an indubitable foundation for knowledge, and has needed to achieve a radical reorientation of man’s relation to the world – something he tried to achieve in his own work.

In this term’s Readings in Phenomenology we will explore the theme of the critique of metaphysics in Nietzsche, and the Heidegger's attempt to revive philosophy. We will begin by reading excerpts from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, and we will then move on to read Heidegger's Letter on Humanism in which he attempts to move beyond metaphysics after Being and Time, and his poetic essay Building Dwelling Thinking in which he tries to evoke a more authentic and attentive way of 'dwelling' in the world. 

Readings in Middle Bengali Texts: Session six

Lucian Wong
Friday, 3 June 2016 - 11:00am to 12:00pm
OCHS Library

We will read sections from key devotional and theological Vaiṣṇava texts in Bengali from the early modern period and discuss their meaning. Some proficiency in Bengali is a requirement.

Readings in Phenomenology: Session seven

Dr Jessica Frazier and Lucian Wong
Thursday, 9 June 2016 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
OCHS Library

In the early twentieth century Phenomenology was considered a vibrant fresh approach to reality, with the power to revitalise human engagement with the world. Martin Heidegger's rethinking of metaphysics became central to this project. Taking his cue from Nietzsche, Heidegger argued that Western philosophy since Plato had been dogged by an obsession with finding an indubitable foundation for knowledge, and has needed to achieve a radical reorientation of man’s relation to the world – something he tried to achieve in his own work.

In this term’s Readings in Phenomenology we will explore the theme of the critique of metaphysics in Nietzsche, and the Heidegger's attempt to revive philosophy. We will begin by reading excerpts from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, and we will then move on to read Heidegger's Letter on Humanism in which he attempts to move beyond metaphysics after Being and Time, and his poetic essay Building Dwelling Thinking in which he tries to evoke a more authentic and attentive way of 'dwelling' in the world. 

Nath Siddhas and Hatha Yoga Practices in South India

Shivadasani Seminar
Prabhavati C. Reddy
Thursday, 9 June 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
OCHS Library

By the fifteenth century, the Nath lineage of Siddhas had emerged as influential teachers and wonder-working yogis in the Telugu-speaking region of Srisailam in South India. Both textual and archaeological evidence suggest that Nath gurus have gained popularity among royal families and common people as well as the establishment of regional Nath parampara traditions, combined with Saiva, Tantra and Hatha Yoga practices in the environs of Srisailam. In this seminar, we will discuss the mid-fifteenth century Telugu work, the Navanathacaritra of Gaurana, which is a primary source dedicated entirely to the history of nine Nath teachers, in particular the fifteenth century Prakara’s art narratives depicting the Naths and a variety of Siddha portraits in hatha yoga postures. The Navanāthacaritra is the first work to give a list of nine Naths corresponding to those found in later Nath works and it also contains important information on the localization of Nath yogis, the Saiva-Nath affiliation, and Tantric and hatha yoga techniques. This seminar explores the five facets of Nath religious culture, including: 1) the historical account of nine Nath Siddhas based on the Navanatha Caritra and the art narratives of Minanatha (Matsyendra), Gopala (Goraksa) and Sarangadhara (Caurangi); 2) the kundalini-based yoga techniques and hatha yoga practices by Nath gurus; 3) the Yogini-Kaula cult of Matsyendranath; 4) a variety of Siddha portraiture and hatha yoga asanas; and 5) the placement of Srisailam’s Nath religious culture within the broader context of the Nath tradition. 

Prabhavati C. Reddy is an Adjunct Faculty member of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in Asian Art History from the University of Texas-Austin, and an M.A and M.Phil. in Ancient History and Archaeology from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. She has previously taught at George Washington University and was a two-year Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University where she taught in the Department of Religious Studies. She specializes in Hindu traditions and is interested in the historical development of sectarian traditions with reference to constructive theological frameworks and syncretism, religious authority and identity, and conflict and resolution in response to sociological and political processes. She is the author of Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India (Routledge, 2014) and has published several articles on Indian art and Indian diaspora/Hindu temples in North America. She is currently working on two books entitled, The Tantra and Siddha Traditions at Srisailam: Kundalini and Hatha Yoga Practices in Medieval India and Vaisnava Rituals and Sacred Images. She has lectured at universities in both the U.S and India as well as has presented papers at professional conferences. 

Readings in Middle Bengali Texts: Session seven

Lucian Wong
Friday, 10 June 2016 - 11:00am to 12:00pm
OCHS Library

We will read sections from key devotional and theological Vaiṣṇava texts in Bengali from the early modern period and discuss their meaning. Some proficiency in Bengali is a requirement.

Readings in Phenomenology: Session eight

Dr Jessica Frazier and Lucian Wong
Thursday, 16 June 2016 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
OCHS Library

In the early twentieth century Phenomenology was considered a vibrant fresh approach to reality, with the power to revitalise human engagement with the world. Martin Heidegger's rethinking of metaphysics became central to this project. Taking his cue from Nietzsche, Heidegger argued that Western philosophy since Plato had been dogged by an obsession with finding an indubitable foundation for knowledge, and has needed to achieve a radical reorientation of man’s relation to the world – something he tried to achieve in his own work.

In this term’s Readings in Phenomenology we will explore the theme of the critique of metaphysics in Nietzsche, and the Heidegger's attempt to revive philosophy. We will begin by reading excerpts from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, and we will then move on to read Heidegger's Letter on Humanism in which he attempts to move beyond metaphysics after Being and Time, and his poetic essay Building Dwelling Thinking in which he tries to evoke a more authentic and attentive way of 'dwelling' in the world. 

Readings in Middle Bengali Texts: Session eight

Lucian Wong
Friday, 17 June 2016 - 11:00am to 12:00pm
OCHS Library

We will read sections from key devotional and theological Vaiṣṇava texts in Bengali from the early modern period and discuss their meaning. Some proficiency in Bengali is a requirement.