Bengali Vaishnavism in the Modern Period Workshop

Linbury Building, Worcester College, University of Oxford

28–29 March 2015  

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Vaishnavism inspired by the Bengali Krishna devotee Chaitanya (1486-1533) has been a central feature of the religious and cultural landscape of Bengal. It has also had significant impact on other regions of the subcontinent, such as Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Assam, Bihar, and present day Bangladesh, and more recently has assumed a global presence. While critical study of the tradition is by no means a recent phenomenon, much of this scholarship pertains either to the tradition in its earlier phases (e.g. the works of the Gosvāmīs) or later global developments (e.g. ISKCON). Recent years have however seen increasing scholarly interest in the tradition, in its manifold forms, during the ‘modern’ period (roughly, mid eighteenth century to mid twentieth century), a time that was witness to well-known pivotal developments in the region: the consolidation of British power, the arrival of the press, new forms of education, an emergent middle class, and nationalism, to name but a few. This is certainly an important area of study, not simply for facilitating a more complete picture of the Bengali Vaishnava tradition, but also for enriching our understanding of religion in modern South Asia more broadly, for while much critical attention has been given to modern figures and currents of religious ‘reform’ and ‘revival’ during this period—e.g., Rammohan Roy and the Brahmo Samaj, Dayananda Saraswati and the Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Bankim Chandra Chattopahyay, etc.—relatively little has been paid to the roles of and developments within sampradāyas or traditional religious communities in this context.

This workshop seeks to bring together scholars from across the disciplines working on various aspects of Bengali Vaishnavism during this key period to create a forum for focused exploration of the present state of the mapping, collection, translation and critical investigation of material relevant to research in this area. The workshop will showcase the current work of established scholars, early career researchers, and advanced PhD candidates, and will allow ample time for discussion and interaction, as well as the planning of possible avenues for longer term collaborative research projects in this area. The workshop ultimately aims to encourage a critical mass of research pertaining to Bengali Vaishnavism in the Modern Period and will officially inaugurate the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies’ project of the same name.


Chair: Dr. Ferdinando Sardella
Department of History of Religions, Stockholm University
Research Fellow, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

Secretary: Lucian Wong
Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford

Dr. Varuni Bhatia
Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan

Preliminary Workshop Programme

Saturday 28 March

8.30 – 9.00 Registration

9.00 – 9.15 Welcome

9.15 – 11.00 Session 1

Tony K. Stewart (Vanderbilt University) – ‘Jaban Haridās: The Strange Tales of the Sufi who Practiced Kṛṣṇa   Dhikr

Richard Williams (Kings College London) – ‘Singing in tune with God: the eighteenth-century musicology of Narahari Cakravarti’

Kiyokazu Okita (Kyoto University) – ‘When a Royal Paṇḍit is Refuted: Court, Conflict, and Controversy in Eighteenth Century Bengal’

Chair: Polly O’Hanlon

11.00 – 11.30 Refreshments

11.30 – 1.00 Session 2

Amiya Sen (Univesity of Heidelberg) – ‘Theorizing Bengal Vaishnavism: Bipin Chandra Pal and New Perspectives on Hindu- Bengali Religious Life’

Santanu Dey (Jawaharlal Nehru University) – ‘Forms of Authority and Organization within Vaishnava Institutionalization Processes in Colonial Bengal’

Ferdinando Sardella (University of Stockholm) – ‘Legal Conflicts in the Post-charismatic History of the Gaudiya Math’

Chair: Julius Lipner

1.00 – 2.45 Lunch

2.45 – 4.15 Session 3

Jason Fuller (DePauw University) – ‘Selling Salvation: Bhaktivinoda Thakura and the Re-branding of Vaishnavism in 19th Century Bengal’

Gerald Carney (Hampden-Sydney College) – ‘Bābā Premānanda Bhāratī: A Trajectory into and through Bengal Vaiṣṇavism to the West’

Abhishek Ghosh (Muhlenberg College) – ‘Bhaktivinod’s Doxography of World Philosophies’

Chair: Varuni Bhatia

4.15– 4.45 Refreshments

4.45 – 6.15 Session 4

Kenneth Valpey (Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies) – ‘Claiming High Ground: Gaudiya Missionizing Rhetoric on the Adhikāra of Worship’

Varuni Bhatia (University of Michigan) – ‘Enframing Caitanya: The Afterlife of a Saint in Troubled Times’

Mans Broo (Åbo Akademi University) – ‘Being Modern but Authentic: Notes from Swami B. H. Bon’s ‘On the Way to Vaikuntha’

Chair: Amiya Sen

Sunday 29 March

9.30-11.00 Session 5

Jeanne Openshaw (University of Edinburgh) – ‘Love of woman: love of humankind? Interconnections between Baul esoteric practice and social radicalism’

Sukanya Sarbadhikary (Presidency College) (presented by Tony K. Stewart) – ‘The Sahajiya Body: Methodological Reflections on a Sensitive Ethnography’

Lucian Wong (University of Oxford) – ‘Victorian Morals, Vaiṣṇava Quarrels: Sources of Nineteenth-century Anti-Sahajiyā Polemics’

Chair: Rebecca Manring

11.00 – 11.30 Refreshments

11.30 – 12.40 Session 6

June McDaniel (College of Charleston) – ‘“Vaisnavas are the True Saktas”: Vaisnava and Sakta Bhakti in Modern West Bengal’

Rebecca Manring (Indiana University) – ‘Rādhātantram: Appropriation and Linguistic Strategy’

Chair: Gavin Flood

12.40 – 2.30 Lunch

2.30 – 4.00 Roundtable: ‘Developing the Field‘

4.00 Closing remarks and refreshments