Lecture List
Hilary Term 2022

Sunday 16 January – Saturday 12 March 2022
OCHS lectures and seminars will be held in accordance with University policy.

Hinduism 2: Modern Hinduism

Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
Week 1-8, Friday 4.00-5.00, Faculty of Theology & Religion, Gibson Lecture Room

This paper traces the development of Hinduism from the medieval period through to modernity. The course will examine Hindu scholasticism, devotional and tantric traditions, and modern Hindu thought. The lectures will explore themes of liberation, the soul and the divine, Tantra and meditation, devotional literature and the formation of modern Hindu identity.

Sanskrit and Pali Prelims 2

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

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.

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 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. This term we will be reading Lakṣmīdhara Kavi’s Advaita-makaranda.

Readings in Phenomenology

Prof. Gavin Flood FBA
Weeks 2-8, Monday 12.00-1.00, OCHS Library

This will be online through Teams. Please send an email to secretary@ochs.org.uk 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.

Lecture from the Shivdasani Visiting Fellow

Early Pilgrimage Traditions in South Asia

Prof. Knut Axel Jakobsen
Week 3, Thursday 3 February, 2.00-3.00, OCHS Library

The lecture looks at the early history of pilgrimage and sites of pilgrimage in South Asia. Pilgrimage sites that were believed to offer rewards to those who visited them have been a feature of South Asian religious traditions since at least the first centuries CE. I suggest that some pre-Buddhist, non-Vedic religious sites in north and central India associated with sacred trees, pools of water, and shrines in the form of stones, might have been objects of pilgrimage travel also in pre-historic times. Yakṣas and other divinities were connected to sites and in some cases in order to worship them the worshipper would have to travel to them. An analysis of the two earliest texts that promote Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage, the Mahāparinibbānasutta and the Mahābhārata, indicates that the pre-Buddhist, non-Vedic religious traditions were of some importance for the development of both pilgrimage traditions. In. the lecture I argue that two different forms of ritual travel are found in the Mahābhārata, the ritual royal procession, and the individual pilgrimage ritual, and argue that they have different origins. Both types of ritual travel are found in the Hindu pilgrimage traditions.

Hindu Pilgrimage Sites and Processions Rituals in the Diasporas

Prof. Knut Axel Jakobsen
Week 7, Thursday 3 March, 2.00-3.00, OCHS Library

In this lecture I present and analyze procession and pilgrimage sites and rituals in the Hindu diasporas. These two forms of public rituals are related as processions are often part of festivals and the majority of pilgrims often arrive on the festivals’ main procession day. In the lecture I argue that one Hindu response to diaspora is to establish new sacred sites. In the diasporas Hindus continue the tradition of South Asian Hinduism of establishing new pilgrimage sites based on lives of sacred persons and visions, embodiments and other encounters with Hindu divinities. The paper argues that Hindus connect to space in a way that sacralize space wherever they live and that establishing new pilgrimage sites sanctions the new space as sacred and establishes an alternative or an additional sacred geography to those in their ancestral homelands.

Prof. Knut A. Jacobsen is Professor of the Study of Religion at the University of Bergen and specialises in the religions of India. He is also a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. He has published around 40 books as author or editor, and is the editor-in-chief of the landmark six-volume work Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Prof. Jacobsen obtained his PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1994, and has been professor at the University of Bergen since 1996. His main areas of research is the Hindu philosophical schools of Sāṃkhya and Yoga, especially in its classical forms but also exploring how these traditions survive in the modern world. In addition, he has also written extensively on the practice of pilgrimage in South Asia, and on the migration of South Asian religions, especially in Europe.

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

Readings in the Tantrāloka

Prof. Alexis Sanderson
Week 2, 4, 6, 8, Thursday, 2.00-3.30 (beginning Thursday 27th January)

In these lectures Professor Sanderson will introduce 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, studied 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. From 2015 to the present he has been the Academic Director of the Institute for Śaiva and Tantric Studies in Portland, Oregon, where he is 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.

Other Lectures

New Directions in the Study of Modern Hinduism

An online lecture series
Convenors: Dr Lucian Wong 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 lectures 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.

Modern Hinduism Before Reform

Prof. Brian Hatcher (Tufts University)
Week 1, Wednesday 19 January, 3.00-4.00 pm (GMT)

What do you do when your narrative of religious modernity includes only one of two contemporary and highly influential religious innovators? Try to tell a different story! Looking at the lives of Sahajanand Swami in Gujarat and Rammohun Roy in Bengal, what might we say about their accomplishments if we deferred applying the category of reform? Could we bring them together in one interpretive frame? If so, what new critical possibilities might arise? These are some questions I hope to pose in this lecture.

Brian Hatcher‘s research focuses on the transformation of Hinduism in colonial and contemporary South Asia, with a special interest in early colonial Bengal. His publications explore issues of religious reform, vernacular modernity, and the colonial world of Sanskrit. An expert on the life and work of Ishvarchandra Vidyasagar, he is also known for his interpretations of “bourgeois Hinduism,” Hindu eclecticism, and the “empire of reform.” His most recent book, Hinduism Before Reform (Harvard University Press, 2020), offers the first in-depth comparison of the early histories of the Swaminanarayan Sampraday and the Brahmo Samaj, situating their origins in a distinctive early colonial moment as a way to bypass familiar models of modern Hindu reform.

A Sovereign Knowing: Audacious Evocations of Hinduism in Colonial India

Prof. Leela Prasad (Duke University)
Week 2, Wednesday 26 January,, 3.00-4.00 pm (GMT)

In my recent book, The Audacious Raconteur, I argue that even the most hegemonic circumstances cannot suppress “audacious raconteurs”: skilled storytellers who fashion narrative spaces that allow themselves to remain sovereign and beyond subjugation.  Four Indian narrators of different castes and religious backgrounds who lived in colonial India—an ayah, a lawyer, an archaeologist, and a librarian—show that the audacious raconteur is a necessary ethical and artistic figure in human experience. In this talk, I will outline the literary strategies and other creative choices that each of these raconteurs made to evoke and represent “lived religion.” Their portraits of religion, rooted in their everyday experiences and intuitions, reveal the vacuity of the terms, categories, boundaries, and conclusions about Hinduism that came to preoccupy colonial scholarship and its legacy. These portraits show that when the study of religion considers forms and varieties of power without presuming that power is the exclusive privilege of the dominant, it is able to engage the dynamic creativity and courage of an embodied religious subject. 

Leela Prasad is an anthropologist in the Department of Religious Studies at Duke University, North Carolina, USA. She writes on everyday ethics, Gandhi, gender, prison and post-prison life, decoloniality, and narrative art and culture. Her articles have appeared in Numen, Journal of Religious Ethics, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Oral Tradition, Journal of South Asian History and Culture, and in various edited volumes. She is fluent in Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, and Hindi. Her latest book, The Audacious Raconteur: Sovereignty and Storytelling in Colonial India (Cornell University Press, 2020) argues that even the most empowered oppressor cannot suppress the creativity of politically colonized people who ultimately remain sovereign. The book engages the extraordinary narrations of Indians in late colonial India, and converses with descendants, to highlight the perennial presence of the “audacious raconteur” as an ethical figure in contexts of power and domination.

Rethinking Modern Hinduism

Prof. Rick Weiss (Victoria University of Wellington/Heidelberg University)
Week 4, Wednesday 9 February, 3.00-4.00 pm  (GMT)

In this lecture, I present the basic framework laid out in my book The Emergence of Modern Hinduism (University of California Press, 2019). The book argues for the importance of regional, vernacular innovation in processes of Hindu modernization. Scholars usually trace the emergence of modern Hinduism to cosmopolitan reform movements, producing accounts that overemphasize the centrality of elite religion and the influence of Western ideas and models. Here I examine religious change on the margins of colonialism by looking at an important local figure, the Tamil Shaiva poet and mystic Ramalinga Swami (1823–1874). I argue for a history of Hindu modernization that demonstrates the transformative role of Hindu ideas, models, and institutions.

Rick Weiss is Adjunct Professor of South Asian religions at Victoria University of Wellington, and Guest Professor of Modern History at Heidelberg University. His book Recipes for Immortality: Medicine, Religion, and Community in South India (Oxford University Press, 2009) examines the religious and nationalism dimensions of traditional siddha medicine. His second book, The Emergence of Modern Hinduism: Religion on the Margins of Colonialism (University of California Press, 2019), argues for the importance of regional, vernacular innovation in processes of Hindu modernization. His newest project examines the impact of print technology on religion in nineteenth-century India.

The Boundary of Laughter: Popular Performances Across Borders in South Asia

Aniket De (Harvard University)
Week 5, Wednesday 16 February, 3.00-4.00 pm (GMT)

Combining archival research with ethnographic fieldwork, my new book, The Boundary of Laughter (OUP, 2021) explores how spaces of popular performance have changed with the emergence of national borders in modern South Asia. Drawing on a rich and hitherto unexplored archive of Gambhira songs and plays, I trace the making of the popular theater form called Gambhira by Hindu and Muslim peasants and laborers in colonial Bengal, and explores the fate of the tradition after the Partition of the region in 1947. In this talk, I will share some parts of my book in an attempt to rethink our analytical tools for studying religious faith and identity in colonial India, particularly in relation to Hindu-Muslim relations. I hope to work towards a new approach for studying popular performances as shared spaces that can accommodate peoples across national and religious boundaries.

Aniket De is a PhD Candidate in History at Harvard University, USA. His academic and research interests include the political and economic history of the British Empire, the intellectual history of Indian nationalism and cultural history of colonial Bengal. He is keen on inquiring how the idea of the “frontier” developed in British India over the nineteenth century, especially with relation to imperial political economy, colonial anthropology and nationalist thought.

What is ‘Modern’ Hinduism?

Prof. Ishita Banerjee-Dube (El Colegio de México)
Week 6, Wednesday 23 February, 2.00-3.00 pm (GMT)

While there is no common accord among scholars on the propriety of the use of ‘Hinduism’ as a religion, there is a wider acceptance of the fact that Hinduism gained currency in the writings of British administrator-scholars in the first half of the 19th century. In 1816, the noted Orientalist scholar H.H. Wilson had commented that “Hindu religion has been hitherto employed in a collective sense” to designate ‘a faith and worship of almost endlessly diversified description’. Taking this relatively recent use of Hinduism in administrative and scholarly writings as a point of entry, my talk will query the perceptions and conceptualization of ‘modern’ Hinduism. When and how did Hinduism become modern and in what sense? Is modern tied to ‘scientific’? What are the productive possibilities and grave dangers in calling Hinduism  modern? In other words, does it help us understand and analyse the historical processes and their socio-cultural (and political) ramifications that the study of religions is meant to entail?

Ishita Banerjee-Dube is associate professor at the Colegio de México’s Center for Asian and African Studies in Mexico City. She has written Divine Affairs: Religion, Pilgrimage, and the State in Colonial and Postcolonial India (2001); Emergent Histories (Anthem Press, forthcoming); Fronteras del Hinduismo (El Colegio de México, forthcoming); and edited Caste in History (Oxford University Press, 2010). Her articles have appeared in Subaltern Studies, Studies in History, and Estudios de Asia y Africa.

Margins, Meanings, Modernity: Satnampanth, Hinduism, and Colonial Questions

Prof. Saurabh Dube (El Colegio de México)
Week 7, Wednesday 2 March, 2.00-3.00 pm (GMT)

This talk shall address some of the salient issues informing the project on “Rethinking Hinduism in Colonial India”. It shall do so through two overlapping steps. On the one hand, I shall seize upon a few critical concerns of my historical anthropology of the Satnamis of Chhatisgarh: a subaltern and heretical caste-sect that variously challenged, negotiated, displaced, and reproduced formations of meaning and power encoded in dominant Hinduism and colonial authority. On the other hand, I will bring into view aspects of my more recent forays into understandings of modernity, colonialism, and their subjects. Taken together, I seek to ask: How are we to understand heterogenous articulations of the margins and meanings of Hinduism? What is the place of authority and alterity in expressions of caste and sect, gender and office in these arenas? What presumption and privilege are reproduced in familiar projections of modern Hinduism, bearing which traces of liberal-progressivist subjects-settlements? Can the study of apparently marginal subjects engage the widest questions of power and meaning turning upon caste and religion, colonial cultures and modernity’s makeovers, including by carefully querying formidable anthropological assumption(s) and developmental historical premise(s)?

Saurabh Dube is Professor-Researcher, Distinguished Category, at El Colegio de México, and also holds the highest rank in the National System of researchers (SNI), Mexico since 2005. Apart from around 140 essays and book-chapters, his authored books include Untouchable Pasts (1998, 2001); Stitches on Time (2004); After Conversion (2010); Subjects of Modernity (2017, 2018, 2019); as well as a quintet in historical anthropology in the Spanish language published by El Colegio de México (2001-2018). A 600 page anthology/omnibus of Dube’s Spanish writings of the last two decades was published recently. Among his more than fifteen edited volumes are Postcolonial Passages (2004, 2006); Historical Anthropology (2007, 2008); Enchantments of Modernity (2009, 2010); Crime through Time (2013); Unbecoming Modern (2006, 2019); and Dipesh Chakrabarty and the Global South (2019, 2021). Dube is the founder-editor of the international innovative series, “Routledge Focus on Modern Subjects.” He has been elected Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, New York; the Institute of Advanced Study, Warwick; the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla; the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study, South Africa; the Max Weber Kolleg, Germany; and the Institute of Human Sciences, Vienna. Dube has also held visiting professorships, several times, at institutions such Cornell University, the Johns Hopkins University, University of Iowa, and Goa University (where he occupied the DD Kosambi Visiting Chair in Interdisciplinary Studies).

Martyrdom and Karma Yoga in the 1920’s

Prof. Torkel Brekke
Week 8, Wednesday 9 March, 3.00-4.00 pm (GMT)

Four important Indian political and religious thinkers and writers of the early 20th century are presented here: Aurobindu Ghose (1872-1950), Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920), Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966). During the first decades of the 20thcentury there erupted a violent revolutionary movement against the British colonial power in India. Inside this movement there was often a contest about how to configure the relationship between the Indian nation and the various religious identities of that nation in the struggle for independence. The four writers presented here represent different approaches to questions about the role of revolutionary violence in the struggle for independence. From the late 19th century India had entered a new period in terms of political discourse and practice. A consequence of globalization was that the language available to Indian politicians and revolutionaries expanded in its repertoire through the exchange with Western ideologies and practices. The language of politics in general, and the language of revolution, war and violence specifically, became global with Western concepts like rights, justice, equality, oppression, terrorism, capitalism, class struggle, and nationalism entering the discourse of revolutionary thinkers and activists everywhere. These were used by individual ideologues as well as political organizations in India, often combined with Hindu, Sikh and Islamic concepts, to create new idioms of politics that were both complex, eclectic and globalized. In addition, ancient religious concepts that were traditionally closely linked to a particular tradition were consciously lifted out of their old contexts and deployed strategically in new ways to justify violence against the colonial state. Good examples are the concepts karmayoga and martyrdom.

Torkel Brekke is Professor at Oslo Metropolitan University. His publications include Makers of Modern Indian Religion in the Late Nineteenth Century (2002), Religious Motivation and the Origins of Buddhism: A Social-Psychological Exploration of the Origins of a World Religion(2002), Fundamentalism: Prophecy and Protest in an Age of Globalization (2012), Buddhism and Violence: Militarism and Buddhism in Modern Asia (co-edited with Vladimir Tikhonov; 2012), and Military Chaplaincy in an Era of Religious Pluralism: Military-Religious Nexus in Asia, Europe, and USA (co-edited with Vladimir Tikhonov; 2017).

Śākta Traditions Lecture Series

Shaktism and Anthropology: Some Major Styles of Worship and Belief among Practitioners

Professor June McDaniel
Wednsday 16th February, 2.00-3.00 (GMT)

The study of Shaktism is a relatively new field, and its primary methodologies have been historical and textual study.  In this lecture, we shall examine some modern approaches to Shaktism, from the perspectives of practitioners and devotees.  The regional focus will be West Bengal, India.

Among practitioners today, there tend to be three strands or styles of Shakta understanding and practice.  The first is the folk or tribal strand, which involves possession trance, dream commands and animism; its focus is a goddess immanent within nature.  The second approach is the tantric or yogic strand, which involves meditation and spiritual disciplines.  The goddess is understood as highest wisdom, brahmajnana; she is encountered in initiations, visualizations, spiritual travel and practice of the three Shakta bhavas.  The third type is the devotional or bhakti strand, which involves the intense love of a particular form of the goddess.  Shakti/Devi is willing to descend from her paradise to bless her human devotees, and her presence can be felt in religious worship.

These types are often found in combined form, like strands of a rope braided together.  However, there are tensions which exist within and between these strands.  The folk/tribal strand often emphasizes regionalism and competition between local forms of the goddess.  The tantric/ yogic strand opposes those goddesses who represent infinite consciousness with those magical goddesses who move through inner worlds and grant supernatural powers.  The devotional strand has tensions between goddesses understood as individual living deities and goddesses who exist as symbols of universal principles.  We shall also briefly note how traditional Shakta ideas have been incorporated into nationalism by politicians, and into hedonism by modern entrepreneurs.

On the Devīpurāṇa’s Tantric Sources and Adaptations of Tantric Ritual

Professor Shaman Hatley (The University of Massachusetts Boston)
Week 7, Wednesday 2 March, 2.00-3.00 pm (GMT)

Unique among first-millennium purāṇas, the circa 8th–9th century Devīpurāṇa reveals deep familiarity with Tantric Śaivism. This lecture analyzes the Devīpurāṇa’s engagement with tantric rituals and sources, particularly the goddess-oriented Bhairavatantras, and argues that its integration of these is integral to its construction of a Śākta civic religion. The paper first outlines evidence for the Devīpurāṇa’s familiarity with Tantric Śaivism, including its first-hand knowledge of specific early tantras. The second section examines its re-purposing of tantric mantras for public ritual. Section three concerns the Devīpurāṇa’s blending of civic religion and esoteric ritual in its genre-bending descriptions of pilgrimage to Nandā and Sunandā, the Himalayan mountain-goddesses. The final section concerns how the Devīpurāṇa transformed the propitiation of yoginīs, tantric goddesses of the cremation grounds, into calendrical rituals for the benefit of the state. Far more than a collection of demon-slaying narratives, the Devīpurāṇa proves crucial for understanding the early-medieval religious landscape, and in particular, the roles of Śaiva tantric rituals and sources in the making of public Śāktism.

Rethinking Gender in Hinduism

Organised by Tanja Jakobsen, Sharvi Maheshvari, Laura Anderson

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.

This term we have lectures by:

  • Prof. June McDaniel (Charlston University) launched in Week 2, Monday 24 January, 2.00.
  • Prof. Karen Pechilis (Drew University) launched in Week 4, Monday 2 February, 2.00.
  • Prof. Loriliai Biernacki (Colorado University at Boulder) launched Week 6, 14 February, 2.00


An Online Conference

Organisers: Dr Arun Brahmbhatt, Dr Avni Chag & Dr Lucian Wong
Week 3, Friday-Sunday 4-6 February 2022

No history of Hinduism can be written without reference to the plethora of initiatory religious communities (sampradāya, panth, mārga, maṭha, etc.) that have long comprised a fundamental component of the Hindu religious landscape. For centuries, these organisational formations have profoundly shaped collective and individual Hindu life. They have played a central role in the transmission of religious teachings, rituals, and codes of behavior, and aligned themselves, to varying degrees, with local regimes of power. Yet, while there is no dearth of scholarship on such formations in classical, medieval, and early modern India, they have, by comparison, featured surprisingly little in the study of colonial period developments within Hinduism.

Sampradāyic formations in this context, when not wholly neglected, are often presumed to have been rendered increasingly irrelevant by modernising forces. Yet this is not borne out by the historical evidence. Recent years have witnessed growing interest in colonial-era activity within the vast array of regional sampradāyic formations that fall beyond the discursive parameters of the established historiographical paradigm. This burgeoning body of scholarship has begun to reveal just how central a role such initiatory religious currents continued to play in Hindu lives of all varieties amidst the unprecedented social and epistemic changes effected by British colonialism. What is becoming ever clearer is that any serious attempt to understand Hinduism during this period cannot fail to attend to the spectrum of sampradāyic dynamics within this context.

This conference brings together scholars working on sampradāyic Hindu modalities from across colonial India. In doing so, the conference will provide a forum for the exploration of sampradāyic dynamics beyond regional boundaries and a vital opportunity for critically rethinking the texture of Hinduism at this pivotal historical juncture.

For more, go to: https://rethinkinghinduism.org/