Lecture List
Michaelmas Term 2021

Sunday 10 October 2021—Saturday 4 December 2021

OCHS lectures and seminars will be held in accordance with University policy.

Hinduism: Sources and Formations

Dr. Rembert Lutjeharms 
Weeks 1-8, Friday 4.00-5.00, Gibson Building

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

Sanskrit and Pali Prelims

Week 1-8, Monday 2.00-3.00, Friday 9.30-11.30, OCHS Library 
Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen 

The course provides an introduction to Sanskrit for the preliminary paper of the Theology and Religion Faculty in Elementary Sanskrit. Students of Pali will join the Sanskrit course in Michaelmas Term and for the first four weeks of Hilary Term. From week 5 of Hilary Term, Sanskrit and Pali will be taught as two separate courses, i.e. Sanskrit Prelims and Pali for Sanskritists.

Sanskrit Prelims: A range of relevant Hindu and Buddhist texts will be chosen for translation and philological comment in the Sanskrit course. The class is designed to introduce students of Theology and Religion to the essentials of Sanskrit grammar, syntax, and vocabulary and its importance for the exegesis of Sanskrit texts. Students will learn to appreciate the interpretative nature of translation as a central discipline for the study of religions. By the end of the course students will have gained a basic competency in translating classical Sanskrit and reading relevant passages from texts such as the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, the Bhagavadgītā, the Haṭhayogapradīpikā and the Buddhist Heart Sūtra. The course book will be Walter Maurer’s The Sanskrit Language. Sanskrit Prelims continues throughout Michaelmas and Hilary Terms and for the first four weeks of Trinity. 

Pali Prelims: The Pali course is designed to provide an easy philological introduction to Pali Buddhist texts via Sanskrit and introduce students of Theology and Religion to the essentials ofPali grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. A range of relevant Pali Buddhist texts will be chosen for translation and philological comment. We will read classical Theravāda Buddhist discourses from the Pāli Canon such as the Fire Sermon (Ādittapariyāya-sutta) and Dependent Origination (Paṭiccasamuppāda) as well as passages from the Dhammapadaand the Jātaka tales. Students will learn to appreciate the interpretative nature of translation as a central discipline for the study of religions. The course book will be Dines Andersen, A Pāli Reader and Pali Glossary, 2 vols. (1901) supplemented by Rune E. A. Johansson, Pali Buddhist Texts: An Introductory Reader and Grammar (1981). Pali students will attend the same ‘Sanskrit and Pali’ classes as Sanskrit students in Michaelmas Term and weeks 1-4 of Hilary Term. From week 5 of Hilary Term, Pali and Sanskrit students will study in separate classes. 

Readings in Vedānta

Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
Week 1-8, Thursday 10.00-11.00, OCHS Library

Vedānta—theology grounded in the systematic exegesis of the Upaniṣads—has for centuries been one of the main discourses of Hindu theology. These reading sessions are intended for students who have at least an introductory knowledge of Sanskrit and are interested in reading Vedānta texts. 

Indian Philosophy

Dr Jessica Frazier
Weeks 1-4, Monday 2:00-3:00, Radcliffe Humanities Lecture Room 

This course explores distinctive Indian theories of identity, mind, matter, causation, scepticism, idealism, aesthetics, and ethics. No prior knowledge is needed: students are introduced to the ideas and encouraged to analyse the arguments, weigh their success, pinpoint flaws, and develop new insights and potential contributions to existing philosophical approaches. 

  1. Identity, Causation and Change: Vedānta, Sāṃkhya and Vaiśeṣika
  2. Consciousness, Idealism, and Personhood: Advaita, Kashmir Śaivas and Sāṃkhya 
  3. Ontology and Metaphysical Foundations: Vedāntic Philosophies 
  4. Ethics and Aesthetics: Dharma and Rasa-Theory 

Lecture from the Shivdasani Visiting Fellow

‘Ecstatic’ selfhood and ‘arranged’ sameness: Narrative identity and stories of religious experience among Hare Krishnas

Dr Hrvoje Cargonja
Week 6, Thursday 18 November, 2.00-3.00, OCHS Library

In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, religious experience is understood as the actualisation, or realisation of a personal, loving relationship with god Krishna. Among the members of the Hare Krishna movement, the Western offshoot of this devotional tradition, there are two distinct types of religious experience narratives, each with its own specific temporality. In common parlance, they are known as “arrangements” (or “Krishna’s arrangements”) and “ecstasies”. Arrangement narratives are sequences of events emplotted upon reflection as Krishna’s intercession to fulfil a devotee’s need. Conversely, ecstasies are stories with minimal plots. Their content is highly evaluative, reporting affections of an unusual and mystical kind. Such content builds up immediacy and duration as the main feature of the temporality of ecstasy stories. As both types of narratives are about the realisation of one’s own religious identity, arrangements and ecstasies can be seen as expressions of the two types of narrative identity that Ricoeur distinguished as idem or sameness and ipse or selfhood. Stories about devotional needs met by Krishna through his synchronicities or “arrangements of time” are affirmations of a devotee’s identifiable religious dispositions. Needs in arrangement stories testify to the features of one’s devotional character by which one is reidentifiable as the same through time. In this way, arrangement narratives express narrative identity where sameness (idem) conceals selfhood (ipse). On the other hand, ecstasies are narratives of a more extreme “fidelity” to selfhood (ipse). Dissolution of sameness (idem) identity in ecstasy narratives reveals selfhood in a state of timeless but not atemporal duration. It is a being-within-time perpetuated by the ever-ongoing feature of raw affectivity, akin to the other reports of mystical states. Except for the distinct phenomenological features, these two types of stories also have different intersubjectivity. Arrangement narratives are much more readily discussed in public, whereas ecstasies are imparted almost exclusively in private and confidential settings. 

Hrvoje Čargonja is assistant professor at the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia where he teaches classes on: Hinduism, shamanism and qualitative research methods. He obtained MSc in molecular biology and PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of Zagreb. His doctoral thesis, supervised by Professor Gavin Flood (Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Oxford University), was research on religious experience in the Hare Krishna movement. He conducted his fieldwork in Croatia, UK and India. His special research interests include cultural phenomenology, the Hare Krishna movement and phenomenology of religious experience. 

Other Lectures

Rethinking Gender in Hinduism

Convenors: Laura Anderson & Sharvi Maheshwari
Directors: Gavin Flood & Tanja Jakobsen

This series seeks to explore the complexities of the category of ‘gender’ in Hinduism, focusing on expanding past heteronormative conceptions of Hindu deities as shown in scriptures and iconographical contexts. The main goal of the project is to open the academic field of Gender Studies in Hinduism to a greater audience and wider opportunities. The project output is to develop a series that can resonate with, and connect to, other fields of study as well, such as gender studies, critical race theory, decolonial social anthropology, and so on. The project consists of recorded lectures that are made easily available through the OCHS webpage and YouTube.

Sexual Assault and Anxieties of Gender: The Epic Ṛṣis and their Audiences Confront the Problematics of Gender Difference and Human Sexuality

Robert P Goldman, University of California Berkley
Week 3, Friday 29 October, 3.00-4.00

It is, of course, apparent and widely understood that the narratives of the great ancient Indian epic poems, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, are centered around episodes of sexual assault upon their respective heroines, Sītā and Draupadī, respectively. Less well known and commented upon, however, is the way both of the traditional authors of the work, the ṛṣis Vālmīki and Vyāsa, are dedicated to harping on this theme of sexual violence by overdetermining it with episodes of repeated physical and verbal assaults against the same figures as well as multiple assaults against a striking number of less central female characters. At the same time, the poets are at pains to create back stories, as it were that serve to provide justifications and explanations for the sexually anomalous situations in which their narratives place their central female characters. Moreover, running through both poems is a series of episodes that call into question the seeming fluidity and indeed the very concept of gender, as the poets dwell upon a specific anxiety of retributive gender transformation, almost universally, of men into women or fictive women.

In this presentation I will argue that, through these representations of gender and sexuality, the Sanskrit epics both register deeply rooted attitudes about these critical issues and serve as vehicles for their dissemination of the concepts of gender normativity that continue to inflect thinking and practice of gender to the present day in South Asian society. These attitudes, of course are by no means unique to the cultures of that region. They are, unfortunately, found in almost all patriarchal cultures around the world. This being the case, the South Asian representation of gender should be of interest to scholars of this subject in virtually all areas of the humanities and social sciences. Finally, I will discuss some of the ways in which the issue of the sexuality of the epic’s principal figures is negotiated by the Sanskrit language commentators on the works and the authors of later versions of the epic narratives that are heavily inflected by the Vaiṣṇava bhakti movements in medieval and early modern times.

Sex and Gender in The Kamasutra

Professor Wendy Doniger, Professor Emerita, Divinity School, University of Chicago
Week 5, Friday 12 November, 3.00-4.00

This lecture will examine the text in the context of the history of Sanskrit literature, focussing on its conceptual structure and the audience for whom it was written. 

The Philosophical Understanding of Gender in the Mahabharata

Professor Ruth Vanita, University of Montana
Week 7, Friday 26 November, 3.00-4.00

This lecture, based on Ruth Vanita’s forthcoming book, The Dharma of Justice in the Sanskrit Epics: Debates on Gender, Varna and Species, analyses debates between sages on gender as a category. The debates address the question of gender’s relationship to reality in general, and in particular to conception, birth, life and death, and to the construction of personhood.