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

Shivdasani Seminar
Room 7, Examination Schools, 81 High St, Oxford OX1 4AS
Prof. Wendy Doniger
Tuesday, 19 November 2013 - 4:00pm

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

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