Being, Substance, and Essence in Indian Philosophy:
The Heart of the Matter

Project Outline

This conference on Being, Substance, and Essence in Indian Philosophy brings together international scholars for an afternoon and morning of ‘Comparative Philosophy’ in Oxford on 3–4 May 2019. The conference will explore Indian approaches to metaphysics, and will culminate in an edited volume following up on Categorisation in Indian Philosophy (Routledge 2014):

Exploring Ontology in India

As the West has puzzled over the ‘material’ of existence since Democritus and Aristotle, so too Indian history has suggested different candidates for that elusive all-explaining idea: the ‘substance’ of things. Indian thinkers spoke of creation as clay taking many forms, energy evolving through many modes, semantic ‘markers’ dividing the blank field of chaos, or words emerging from a bare potentiality. We find philosophical dialogues in Vedānta or epic debates in the Mahābhārata arguing over whether it is atoms, time, eternal substance, the field of consciousness, or some basic ‘stuff’ or ‘ground’ (satya, dravya, vastu, pradhāna, prakṛti, aśraya, avasthā, or intrinsic svabhāva), that accounts for the world. Others wondered whether substance and identity are merely illusions created by the human desire to see continuity where there is only diversity and change. These debates sought to sift what is existent from what is illusory, contingent from contingent, agentive from accessory, transcendental from uncertain… and the results were also central to whether anything can be determined as fundamentally ‘divine’.

This conference will bring together scholars exploring India’s many theories of Being in a sophisticated but accessible way. Speakers will lead discussion on key philosophies and the insights they suggest, presenting both Indian ideas and perspectives from Western traditions. All are welcome, from Philosophy to Oriental Studies, Theology and Religious Studies, History, and other disciplines. 

Friday 3rd May 2019

1.30-3.30pm: Classical foundations

Introduction – Dr Jessica Frazier,

Samkhya – Dr Mikel Burley, University of Leeds

Vaisesika – Dr Ionut Moise, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

Jainism – Dr Marie-Helene Gorisse, University of Ghent

4-6pm:  Monistic models – the one, the many, and the problem of identity

Advaita – Dr Ankur Barua, University of Cambridge,

Visistadvaita – Prof Julius Lipner, University of Cambridge,

Bhedabheda – Dr Jessica Frazier, University of Oxford/ OCHS

Saturday 4th May 2019

9-11am: Everything or nothing – paradoxes and problems of ‘substance’

Madhyamaka – Dr Rafal Stepien, University of Heidelberg

Kashmiri Saivism – Prof Gavin Flood, University of Oxford/ Yale-NUS/ OCHS

Yogacara – Dr Piotr Balcerowicz, University of Warsaw

11.30am-1.30pm:  Types,  Levels, and Models of Existence

Being and Non-Being – Prof Sthaneshwar Timalsina, University of California, San Diego

Monism and Consciousness – Prof Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, University of Lancaster
Western Perspectives on Indian Approaches – Dr Alison Peterman, University of Rochester   

Friday 3 May – Saturday 4 May 2019
Sutro Room, Trinity College, Oxford