Lecture List
Trinity Term 2022

Welcome back to the final term of this academic year. 

This term we are fortunate to have Professor Tony Stewart as our J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellow and Professor Arun Brahmbhatt as our Shivdasani Visiting Fellow. We also have the pleasure of welcoming Professor Alexis Sanderson, Professor Måns Broo, Professor Mandakranta Bose, and Dr Kenneth Valpey as Visiting Fellows throughout Trinity Term. 

You can find our full lecture list below that includes university teaching, lectures by our Visiting Fellows, our Śākta Traditions and New Directions in the Study of Modern Hinduism lecture series. 

On top of all these activities, we also host the annual Sanskrit Traditions Symposium, an online conference on The Intersection of Hinduism and Contemporary Society, and an online workshop on God and Vaiṣṇavism. 

Wednesday lunch is back this term for weeks 1 – 4. On Wednesday week 8 we have a special lunch where we will award bursaries and scholarships. 

Sunday 24th April  – Saturday 18th June 2022

Sanskrit Prelims

Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Week 1-4, Monday 2.00pm-3.30pm, Thursday 4pm-5.30pm, OCHS Library

The course provides an introduction to Sanskrit for the preliminary paper of the Theology and Religion Faculty in Elementary Sanskrit. 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

Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Week 1-4, Tuesday 4.30pm-6.00pm, Friday 10.30am-12.00pm, OCHS Library

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 of Pali 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). 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 and week 1-4 of Trinity Term, Sanskrit and Pali will be taught as two separate courses, i.e. Sanskrit Prelims and Pali Prelims (i.e. Pali for Sanskritists).

Readings in Phenomenology

Prof. Gavin Flood FBA (gavin.flood@theology.ox.ac.uk)
Weeks 1-8, Monday 12.00pm-1.00pm

 This will be online through Teams. Please send an email to me for inclusion on the Teams invitation.

Phenomenology is one of the most important developments in philosophy in the twentieth century, and it has also had a deep impact on other theoretical fields more widely conceived. This term we will begin to read The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie). This books recaps much of Being and Time and fills in some of the gaps, especially Part II on time that never appeared. In some ways, the Basic Problems might be seen as a completion of Being and Time that we read last year.

Readings in the Tantrāloka

Prof. Alexis Sanderson
Weeks 2-8, Wednesday (alternate weeks, beginning Wednesday 4th May), 4.00pm-5.30pm, OCHS Library

In these lectures Professor Sanderson will read the Tantrāloka of Abhinavagupta (fl. c. 975–1025), that author’s monumental exposition of the Śaiva Tantras from the standpoint of the Śākta Śaiva tradition known as the Trika and the philosophical non-dualism of the Pratyabhijñā texts, contextualizing his undertaking within the religious developments of the early medieval period.

Alexis Sanderson began his Indological career as a student of Sanskrit at Oxford in 1969, studying the Kashmirian Śaiva literature in Kashmir with the Śaiva Guru Swami Lakshman Joo from 1971 to 1977. He was Associate Professor (University Lecturer) of Sanskrit at Oxford and a Fellow of Wolfson College from 1977 to 1992 and then the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College from 1992 to 2015. Since then, he has been preparing a critical edition of the Tantrāloka with a translation and commentary. His field is early medieval religion in India and Southeast Asia, focusing on the history of Śaivism, its relations with the state, and its influence on Buddhism and Vaishnavism.

Readings in Vedānta

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

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

Lectures of the J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellow

The Sufi who Loved Kṛṣṇa: A Discourse Analysis of the Tales of Jaban Haridās

Prof. Tony K. Stewart
Week 7, Thursday 9th June, 2.00pm-3.30pm, OCHS Library

Counted among the immediate followers of Kṛṣṇa Caitanya in the early decades of the 16th century was a figure named Haridās Ṭhākur, more popularly known as Jaban Haridās. Jaban (from Sanskrit yavana) signifies a “foreigner,” in this case a Muslim Sufi. Scholars and devotees have puzzled how it was possible for Haridās to be one of Caitanya’s most intimate associates. A formal discourse analysis, employing a complex progression of semiotic squares, reveals some surprising truths about the ways in which the Sufism and Vaiṣṇavism of that period were compatible.

Prof. Tony K. Stewart currently holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities and serves as a Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. Within the Hindu traditions his research has focused on the creation of the Gaudiya Vaisnava movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the results of which can be found in his recent monograph titled The Final Word: the Caitanya Caritamrta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition (Oxford 2010). This work was preceded by and dependent on a translation of the key text, the encyclopaedic Caitanya Caritamrta of Krsnadasa Kaviraja, which he produced with the late Edward C. Dimock, Jr. (Harvard Oriental Series 1999). Followers of the Vaisnava traditions also recognize a figure named Satya Pir, which provided a segue into the Islamic literatures of Bengal, especially of the area now known as Bangladesh. Satya Pir, who is considered to be both an avatara of Krsna as well as a Sufi saint, represents a rapprochment of Muslims and Hindus in a plural Bengali society in the premodern period. In Fabulous Females and Peerless Pirs (Oxford 2004) Prof. Stewart translated eight tales out of several hundred, each focused on the ways women, aided by Satya Pir, keep the world ordered in the wake of male-generated chaos. That literature in turn pointed him to write Witness to Marvels: Sufism and Literary Imagination (California, 2019) which examines the ways the Islamic imaginaire has insinuated itself seamlessly into a Bengali consciousness through mythic heroes who extend their help and protection to anyone regardless of sectarian affiliation. The accompanying anthology of fully translated tales, tentatively titled The Needle at the Bottom of the Sea: Writing Bengal into the World of Islam should be released shortly.

Lectures of the Shivdasani Visiting Fellow

“A Quarrelsome Foe”: Late Colonial Negotiations of Vaidikatva

Prof. Arun Brahmbhatt
Week 3, Thursday 12th  May, 2.00pm-3.00pm, OCHS Library

At the turn of the twentieth century, the 100 year-old Swaminarayan Sampraday found itself in a dispute with the powerful Shankaracharya of Dwarka, Madhavatirtha. Madhavatirtha took exception to a laxity in caste-based practices in the Swaminarayan Sampraday and deemed the latter to be “avaidika.” This dispute, set in colonial modernity, is one whose characters complicate binaries between the “traditional” and “modern.” It is the story of how a smaller religious community attempted to mediate local conflict through a translocal appeal to what I call a “scholastic public.” I suggest that the relative “modernity” of these debates about orthodoxy must be understood alongside two considerations: the reliance on external associational bodies of pandits to adjudicate the debates as well as the use of modern genres of print to amplify the debates. I argue that there are two very different deployments of “orthodoxy” at play: the associational bodies were pursuing trans-sectarian agendas of defining orthodoxy as a response to colonial critiques of Hinduism. On the other hand, Swaminarayan agents defended the legitimacy of their community through recourse to the symbolic purchase of vaidikatva. Crucially, they viewed this vaidikatva not as narrowly defined, but rather pluralistic in nature. This case thus reveals the dynamic negotiations of orthodoxy, sectarianism, and pluralism at play in late colonial India.

Sadvidyā: Sanskrit Knowledge Production in the Swaminarayan Tradition

Prof. Arun Brahmbhatt
Week 5, Thursday 26th  May, 2.00pm-3.00pm, OCHS Library

In a sermon transcribed in 1824, Swaminarayan (1781-1830) emphasized the centrality of texts to the growth and development of his nascent religious community. Although the majority of the Swaminarayan sampradāya comprised Gujarati-speaking laypeople, Swaminarayan instructed his monastic disciples to compose texts not only in Gujarati, but also in Sanskrit. He subsequently mandated that pāṭhaśālas be set up for Sanskrit education and the dissemination of “sadvidyā.” His immediate followers composed hymns, sacred biographies, philosophical treatises, and scriptural commentaries, considering the composition and teaching of these texts to be a profoundly devotional endeavor. Today, the Swaminarayan sampradāya is rapidly-growing, transnational, and comprised of discrete denominational sects. This talk examines the Sanskrit knowledge production of one of these sects, the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), which established itself as a distinct community in 1907. I will first explore the historical trajectory of Sanskrit education amongst the monastic order within the tradition, and then examine the textual output from these monastic-scholars. While the sudden appearance of a series of Sanskrit texts in a modern Gujarati religious community may seem at first to be an anachronistic, tangential scholastic project, I argue that it is reflective of a sustained endeavor to substantiate and corroborate the novel theological tenets of the community on a classical Sanskrit register, broadly conceived. Further, though this appeal to Sanskrit tradition seems directed to an external audience of Sanskrit scholars, we must also consider how a substantial internal audience of faithful laypeople—with varying degrees of Sanskrit fluency—engage with these Sanskrit materials.

Prof. Arun Brahmbhatt is Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions in the Religious Studies Department at St. Lawrence University. He received his PhD from the Unversity of Toronto in 2018 and studied at Harvard University and Tufts University prior to that. His research is centred on Sanskrit textual practices in Gujarat during the late colonial period and on Sanskrit commentaries in the Swaminarayan Sampraday. Arun also explores sectarian and community formation and the manner in which regional religious movements negotiate interregional publics. Together with Dr. Lucian Wong (Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies) and Dr. Avni Chag (British Library), he directs the Rethinking Hinduism in Colonial India research project, hosted at the OCHS.

Other lectures

Śākta Traditions Lecture Series

Conveners: Dr. Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen and Lena Molin

The lectures will be available on the OCHS YouTube channel in weeks 5 and 7.

Hinduism cannot be understood without the Goddess (Devi/Śakti) and the goddess-oriented Śākta traditions. The Goddess pervades Hinduism at all levels, from aniconic village deities to high-caste pan-Hindu goddesses to esoteric, tantric goddesses. Furthermore, tantric goddesses have played a significant role in the formation of tantric Buddhism, or what is sometimes referred to as ‘Śākta Buddhism’. Nevertheless, these highly influential forms of South Asian religion have only recently begun to draw scholarly attention. Taken together, they form ‘Śāktism’, which is considered one of the major branches of Hinduism next to Śaivism, Vaiṣṇavism and Smārtism. These online lectures continue to explore this theme.

  1. Wednesday 1 June, 2.00pm-3.00pm, TBA.
  2. Wednesday 15 June, 2.00pm-3.00pm, TBA

New Directions in the Study of Modern Hinduism

Conveners: Dr. Lucian Wong, Dr. Arun Brahmbhatt, and Dr. Avni Chag

Scholarship on Hindu traditions in colonial India has long been dominated by the discourse surrounding ‘Modern Hinduism’. This value-laden category has privileged the role of a narrowly circumscribed list of figures and institutions that betray the workings of a Enlightenment-inflected rationality and its reformative impulses. Indeed, the field of colonial Hindu studies has commonly been equated with the study of these emergent, reform-oriented currents. Recent years, however, have seen the burgeoning of a body of scholarship that has sought in various ways to challenge this paradigm. This online series of lectures will showcase some of these important developments in the field.

These talks will be held online. All are welcome. Please write to secretary@ochs.org.uk to register your interest prior to the talk and you will be sent the appropriate link. 

Panel Discussion: Global Tantra: Religion, Science, and Nationalism in Colonial Modernity by Julian Strube

Week 6, Wednesday 1st  June, 3.00pm- 4.00pm

Tantra has formed an integral part of Asian religious history for centuries, but since “Arthur Avalon” introduced the concept to a global readership in the early twentieth century, Tantric traditions have exploded in popularity. While it was long believed that Sir John Woodroffe stood behind Avalon, it was in fact mainly a collaboration between learned South Asians. Julian Strube considers Tantra from the Indian perspective, offering rare insight into the active roles that Indians have played in its globalization and re-negotiation in local Indian contexts. In the early twentieth century, Avalon’s publications were crucial to Tantra’s visibility in academia and the recognition of Tantra’s vital role in South Asian culture. South Asian religious, social, and political life is inexorably intertwined with various Tantric scriptures and traditions, especially in Shaiva and Shakta contexts. In Bengal, Tantra was central to cultural dynamics including Vaishnava and Muslim currents, as well as universalist tendencies incorporating Christianity and esoteric movements such as New Thought, Spiritualism, and Theosophy. Global Tantra contextualizes struggles about orthodoxy and reform in Bengal, and explores the global connections that shaped them. The study elides boundaries between academic disciplines as well as historical and regional contexts, providing insights into global debates about religion, science, esotericism, race, and national identity.

Julian Strube is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Vienna. His work focuses on the relationship between religion, science, and politics since the nineteenth century from a global history perspective, concentrating on exchanges between Indian and Western intellectuals. His publications include Socialism, Catholicism, and Occultism in Nineteenth Century France, New Approaches to the Study of Esotericism (with Egil Asprem), and Theosophy across Boundaries (with Hans Martin Krämer).

Networks of Power

Dr. Shruti Patel
Week 7, Wednesday 8th June, 3.00pm-4.00pm

In this talk I shall bring into view modern Hinduism through the prism of power: how can we understand nineteenth-century religious communities in a world of shifting political authorities—the colonial state being just one of them? This question draws from my current book project about the creation of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, a Hindu devotional community, and the new forms of complex authority and subjectivity it advanced in the early nineteenth century in the region of Gujarat in western India. In doing so, the historical study not only understands the Sampradaya’s development in the context of the political-economy, it critically thinks about the political in relation to the devotional, prior to the era of nationalism. Taken together, these lines of analysis broaden the historical conversation beyond the colonial state as sites of power, and outline a more capacious, complex character of modern Hinduism.

Shruti Patel is Assistant Professor of History at Salisbury University, USA. She is an American Association of University Women American Postdoctoral Research Leave Fellow (2021-22) and a Visiting Scholar at Tufts University, completing her book project, The Play of History. Her publications investigate religious institutionalization, material culture and issues of historiography. 

From Advaitic Inclusivism to Yogic Pluralism: A New Diachronic Interpretation of Swami Vivekananda’s Views on the Harmony of Religions

Swami Medhananda
Week 9, Wednesday 2nd  June, 3.00pm–4.00pm

Past scholars have tended to paint Swami Vivekananda either as a modern-day exponent of Śaṅkara or as a passive colonial subject whose views were largely a reaction to Western hegemony and the British occupation of India. By contrast, I argue in my new book, Swami Vivekananda’s Vedāntic Cosmopolitanism (Oxford University Press, 2022), that Vivekananda was a cosmopolitan Vedāntin who developed distinctive new philosophical positions through creative dialectical engagement with thinkers in both Indian and Western philosophical traditions. This talk is based on the third chapter of my book, which provides a new diachronic interpretation of Vivekananda’s doctrine of the harmony of religions. Most scholars claim that in spite of Vivekananda’s pluralist-sounding statements that the different world religions are equally valid paths to the same goal, he was actually more of an inclusivist, since he affirmed the superiority and uniqueness of Advaita Vedānta and Hinduism vis-à-vis other religions. I argue that these scholars overlook the fact that his views on the harmony of religions evolved from 1893 to 1901. From September 1894 to May 1895, Vivekananda harmonized the world religions on the basis of the “three stages” of Dvaita, Viśiṣṭādvaita, and Advaita, claiming that theistic religions like Christianity and Islam belonged to the Dvaita stage. However, beginning in late 1895, he explained the harmony of all religions not in terms of the three stages of Vedānta but in terms of the four Yogas. According to Vivekananda’s final position, every religion corresponds to at least one of the four Yogas—namely, Karma-Yoga, Rāja-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, and Jñāna-Yoga—and each of these Yogas is a direct and independent path to salvation. On this basis, he defended not only a full-blown religious pluralism but also the more radical cosmopolitan ideal of learning from—and even practicing—religions other than our own. On the basis of this diachronic interpretation of Vivekananda’s views, I argue that the vast majority of scholars have seriously misrepresented his mature Vedāntic doctrine of the harmony of religions by taking it to be based on the three stages of Vedānta rather than on the four Yogas.

Swami Medhananda (Ayon Maharaj) is a monk of the Ramakrishna Order and Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at the Ramakrishna Institute of Moral and Spiritual Education in Mysore, India. His current research focuses on Vedāntic philosophical traditions, cross-cultural philosophy of religion, cross-cultural approaches to consciousness, Indian scriptural hermeneutics, and the philosophies of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Sri Aurobindo. He is the author of three books: Swami Vivekananda’s Vedāntic Cosmopolitanism (Oxford University Press, 2022), Infinite Paths to Infinite Reality: Sri Ramakrishna and Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion (Oxford University Press, 2018), and The Dialectics of Aesthetic Agency: Revaluating German Aesthetics from Kant to Adorno (Bloomsbury, 2013). He is the editor of The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Vedānta (2020) and co-editor, with Benedikt Paul Göcke, of Panentheism in Indian and Western Thought: Cosmopolitan Interventions (Routledge, under contract). He is also the editor of two special issues of the International Journal of Hindu Studies (Springer), one on “Vedāntic Theodicies” (December 2021) and one on “Swami Vivekananda as a Philosopher and Theologian” (in progress). Since January 2018, he has been serving as a Section Editor of the International Journal of Hindu Studies (Springer), overseeing submissions in Hindu and Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion. He has published nearly thirty articles in such journals as Philosophy East and West, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Journal of Religion, The Monist, Kantian Review, Journal of World Philosophies, Journal of Dharma Studies, Religions, History of European Ideas, PMLA, and Journal of the History of Ideas.


The Sanskrit Traditions Symposium

Week 5, Friday 27th  May

The Sanskrit Traditions Symposium is a forum for the discussion of the Sanskrit traditions of South Asia, and the texts and cultures that have risen out of them. It brings together established and rising academics for the focused examination of research pertaining to various aspects of South Asia’s rich Sanskrit religious and intellectual culture. It thereby seeks to sustain and build upon the long history of scholarship in this important area of study.

The Symposium will be held online this year.

  • The development of some key terms and concepts in the early Advaita Vedānta
    Ivan Andrijanić (University of Zagreb)
  • With the Eye of a Scholar and the Insight of a Physician: Gangadhar Ray Kaviraj and the Carakasaṃhitā
    Cristina Pecchia (Austrian Academy of Sciences and University of Vienna)
  • Śūdra’s Salvation Through Reading the Bhāgavatapurāṇa: A Debate Among Early Modern Vaiṣṇavas
    Radha Blinderman (Harvard University)
  • Vedantic Comedy and Religious Nationalism in V. Raghavan’s Modern Sanskrit Drama, Vimukti
    Charles S. Preston (University of Chicago)

God and Vaiṣṇavism: An Online Workshop

Week 5, 23-26th May 2022, 2.00pm-4:30pm 

 This workshop on God and Vaiṣṇavism is part of ‘A Philosophical Approach to the Vaiṣṇava Concept of God,’ a project funded by the John Templeton Foundation through the Global Philosophy of Religion Project (hosted by the University of Birmingham). The workshop is sponsored by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and the Institute for Vaishnava Studies.

Each presenter in the workshop explores a concept of God in one of the main Vaiṣṇava traditions or texts. The overall purpose of the workshop is to locate these concepts within a global philosophical framework. The questions asked might include but are not limited to: What is the Vaiṣṇava concept of God? What attributes does God possess according to a particular textual source or Vaiṣṇava tradition? Is a specific Vaiṣṇava tradition’s or text’s concept of God a monotheistic one? Is it a consistent concept? What are the philosophical difficulties peculiar to it? To what extent does the tradition or text resort to perfect being theology to construct its concept of God?

The workshop is to be held on Zoom. There will be no fee for participation. Registration however will be required. Please register on the project webpage: https://www.logicandreligion.com/vaishnava-concept-of-god

The Intersection of Hinduism and Contemporary Society: A Virtual Conference

Week 6, 2-3rd  June 2022

 Hindus, their communities, and their traditions face a wide variety of sociological challenges in assimilating into or avoiding modern secular societies. An underpinning of the tensions is that Hindus live and work in the world while simultaneously maintaining a separation from it. Equally as evident is an often-unnoticed intersection between them, sometimes yielding hybrid practices and ideas. Sociological issues that these communities might encounter include those of identity, value, affiliation, and ethnicity. This conference provides an opportunity for scholars to dialogue and share research related to the experiences of contemporary Hindu communities and adherents as they navigate life within, without, and on the fringes of their religious institutions and host communities.

The conference is open to all and also aims to facilitate scholarly research on social issues among Hindus, discourse and productive interaction with and between all types of Hindu tradition and practitioner, and the development of studies and proposals. Key themes that this conference addresses include social cohesion, social integration, and social identity. Some examples of the intersectional issues that will be explored are: the construction of identities through practice, narrative, memory and visualisation, cross-pollinations and tensions between Hinduism and political spheres, the expansion and popularity of Hindu musical traditions, Hinduism and gender equality, post-monastic life, and marriage in the diaspora.

For details, please email hmss@ochs.org.uk

To register: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-intersection-of-hinduism-and-contemporary-society-registration-326281786607