Sunday 9 October 2022 — Saturday 3 December 2022
Weeks 1-8, Friday 4.00-5.00 PM
Faculty of Theology and Religion
Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
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. The lectures will include an introduction to Hindu philosophy.
Week 1-8, Wednesday 4.30-5.30, Friday 3.00-5.00
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 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).
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.
Week 1-8, Thursday 11.00-12.00
Dr Rembert Lutjeharms (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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 Madhva’s Anuvyākhyāna, his principal commentary on the Brahma-sūtras.
(Mondays weeks 1-8, 11.00)
Professor Gavin Flood FBA
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 read Jean-Yves Lacoste, Experience and the Absolute (Fordham University Press, 2004).
Thursdays weeks 1, 3, 5, 7, 2.00-3.00,
Professor Gavin Flood FBA
These lectures will inquire into what we mean by ‘holiness’ by focussing on discussion in Phenomenology and Hermeneutics. This is not a theological inquiry but an anthropological and philosophical inquiry that seeks to argue for the necessity of understanding human life in terms of holiness and for understanding holiness in terms of human life.
To begin our inquiry and to begin to develop a phenomenology of holiness, we need some sense of context and the history of what is at stake, who has been concerned about the question and why. In this opening lecture I wish to focus on history through a question that will emerge as central to a phenomenology of holiness, namely what is the intellectual object of a phenomenology of holiness and the related question as to the being of holiness, whether it can be understood analogically or univocally? These issues go back a long way into medieval Scholasticism. The question has been traditionally couched in terms of natural and supernatural knowledge, concerning whether God is an object of the intellect, and whether the intellect can know God either naturally through Philosophy or supernaturally through Theology. This is not an entirely arcane debate as the category of the holy mutates out of this discussion into a philosophical discourse and thence into a methodological discussion in the science of religion about its object. We will pay particular attention to Duns Scotus.
Two issues are important, for whom is holiness and appearance and of what? In this lecture we will focus on the for whom. The existential experience of holiness necessitates an approach that simultaneously describes it and explains it at one level. In locating holiness in feeling, Rudolf Otto implicitly placed the experience of holiness outside of language. Yet if language is constitutive of human reality and not only descriptive of it, then what does it mean to claim that an experience of holiness could be pre-linguistic and prior to language? To address this question, we need to go back to some basic claims of phenomenology and try to build a new understanding sensitive to the constitutive view that has had such profound impact on the Humanities while at the same time recognising pre-linguistic, somatic experience as the ground upon which the linguistically constitutive view can be formulated. We need to consider Husserl’s intentionality, Heidegger’s Dasein, as well as Romano’s pre-linguistic experience.
A different theoretical trajectory understands holiness in political terms and reduces holiness to a purely transactional notion constructed within a power dynamic that has played out through the history of civilization, to its cost. On this view, we must understand holiness primarily as a legal category. In this lecture we will examine a philosophical anthropology of the political human that begins, as Esposito argues glossing Schmitt, with a negation, with a lack: the lack being that which is sought after, perhaps possessed by the other, in a process starting from enmity. This negation that is the beginning of politics is articulated in legal systems at the root of the Western tradition in Roman law where, as Esposito observes, a free human being was defined negatively as someone who is not a slave, being under one’s own legal authority. Agamben goes further to bring holiness purely within the political realm and claims that holiness as sacrality, ‘the sacred man’ (homo sacer) is defined negatively as the category of the man who can be killed but not sacrificed: namely the state of exception. But is this to ignore holiness as verticality and openness?
We have so far mostly addressed the questions for whom holiness is an appearance and partly addressed the question of what holiness is an appearance. Raising the first question has taken us into an argument that holiness is integral to human being-in-the-world, revealed in terms of a comportment towards verticality and in terms of comportment towards others. This also entails a phenomenology of culture and the ways in which verticality is accessed through symbolic forms or cultural nodal points that provide locations of elevation. We now need to address the question of what holiness is an appearance through an account of ways of being holy and developing an ontology of holiness that is metaphysically realist but can only be accessed indirectly. If the languages of holiness are languages of holiness, what metaphysical commitments does this entail?
Week 4, Thursday 3rd November, 2.00-3.00
Join via zoom from here.
Dr June McDaniel
Visualization is an important practice in many Bengali religious traditions. For Gaudiya Vaishnavas, we can explore two styles of visualization: creating one’s own spiritual body in the form of a young girl or manjari and creating one’s inner body in the form of a young devotee of the saint Caitanya Mahaprabhu, as the gaur deha. The devotee must transmute the substance of instinct or kama into a more condensed form of divine love or prema. For Shaktas, we have tantric visualization of the cakras and bodily channels of energy, which allows cleansing of the elements (bhutasuddhi), and the ritual placement of deities into parts of the body (nyasa), leading towards union with the deities. For Bauls, the inner body is visualized as a place: a garden, a house, a birdcage, a whole landscape with rivers, ponds and mountains. For Sahajiyas or Vaishnava Bauls, the inner body is seen as both the emanation of a deity (Radha for women, Krishna for men) and a network of centers of power. In raja yoga, the siddhis or supernatural powers are developed through samyama, in which visualization acts within the practices of dharana, dhyana and samadhi (shifting one’s focus from external to internal, subtle objects). In all of these cases, visualization brings a special form of altered perception (siddha-darshana) and acts as a technique for inner exploration.
Week 6, Thursday 17th November, 2.00-3.00
Dr June McDaniel
The study of mystical and ecstatic experience is out of fashion these days in the field of Religious Studies in the USA. Analysis of religious consciousness has been obscured by the interest in politics, history and sociology. The themes for meetings of the American Academy of Religion over the last few years have focused on Racism, Social Justice, Climate Change and Covid-19. There is little interest in what we might call the ‘inner dimension’ of religious experience. The modern study of ecstatic religious consciousness over the last thirty to forty years has largely been a study of objections to its subject matter.
We see this in Theology as well as Religious Studies. The general Religious Studies response to mystical experience has been that it should be left to the theologians. But the theologians don’t want it either- they are attempting to show that they are historians, linguists, and ethicists, as well as voices for social change. The study of mystical and ascetical theology has been largely de-emphasized in modern seminaries. Like the religionists, theologians have shifted their interests to the social and political world, often substituting classes in practical skills like small-business organization, finance, leadership and preaching skills. Ecstasy is the “hot potato” that no field wants. As the Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast has recently noted, “Every religion seems to begin in mysticism and end in politics.” He compares mystical states to the hot lava of a volcano, and organized religion to the dry crust and ash that forms as it cools, settles and loses energy. In a similar way, he notes that the volcanic passions of mystical states turn into the organized religious institutions that show the symptoms of “rigor mortis.”
This paper will describe what is gained, and lost, by this limiting of religious inquiry. It will also discuss how ecstasy has been relocated into a variety of secular areas- violence, sexuality, music, sports. Ecstasy has lost its link with religion, and here we will explore how and why this has happened.
Dr June McDaniel is Professor Emerita in the field of History of Religions, in the Dept. of Religious Studies at the College of Charleston, in the USA. She is the author of three books on India, a co-edited volume on mysticism, a co-edited volume on Hindu religious experience, a book on current views of ecstasy in the field of Religious Studies, and many articles. Her MTS was in Theological Studies from Emory University, and her PhD was in History of Religions from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. She spent two years in India, on grants from the American Institute of Indian Studies and as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar. She also did research in Indonesia on a Collaborative International Research Grant from the American Academy of Religion, as well as on shorter research trips.
Week 3, Thursday, 27th October, 11.00-12.00.
This lecture will explore a body of non-systematic beliefs about the death and afterlife of virtuous persons in the Sanskrit epics. Many epic passages depict a Brahmin or warrior sage who exists after death in a luminous form in heaven, as a star, having entered the sun, or flying around in a luminous vimāna (flying palace-chariot). In the Sanskrit epics this usually happens to highly virtuous characters who have purified themselves through such practices as tapas or the observance of dharmic conduct. The lecture will sketch a possible historical development, noting that in the majority of epic passages the luminous afterlife of sages is not associated with yoga, whereas in some passages that are likely to be later the means of extracting a luminous self (ātman) from the body are portrayed as yogic techniques.
Week 5, Thursday, 10th November, 11.00-12.00.
This lecture will explore the ascetic background of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra passage that deals with āsana (2.46-2.48) and offer a new interpretation of that passage. It will argue that Patañjali participates in an earlier discourse on overcoming the hardships of prolonged meditation and ascetic life in the wilderness by using meditative techniques to suffuse one’s body with a pleasant feeling or bliss (sukha) that cancels out the pain (duḥkha) which might otherwise be felt. Such a discourse linking āsana, sukha, and meditation is found primarily in the early Buddhist literature.
Valters Negribs studied social anthropology, study of religions, and traditions of yoga and meditation at SOAS (University of London) before coming to Oxford to work on a doctoral thesis “Ascetic teachings for householder kings in the Mahābhārata”. Valters joins the OCHS as a visiting fellow while waiting for his viva. After a successful defence of the doctoral thesis he will begin a Leverhulme postdoctoral fellowship with Groupe de Recherches en Etudes Indiennes (Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3/ EPHE), working on “Ascetic literature in early Hindu, Buddhist, and Jaina traditions”.
Week 8, Tuesday 29th November, 2.00-3.00
Professor Diwakar Acharya
This talk will explore a Vedic myth of the birth of Śrī — the goddess of excellence, her immediate exploitation by the gods, and subsequent restitution of her bodily possessions through Vedic rituals. It will compare this myth with the Devīmāhātmya myth of creation of the body of the goddess through the contribution of various gods of their powers, and then reflect on the motives and ideas embedded in these two myths. It will also explore the concepts of mantric, geophysical, and micro- and macro-cosmic bodies of the goddess, together with the shades of her beauty from devotional contexts.
Prof. Diwakar Acharya is Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at All Souls College, University of Oxford. His research concerns religious and philosophical traditions of South Asia. He studies ancient and medieval texts, inscriptions, and other historical documents significant for the cultural history of the Indian sub-continent. He is also interested in the critical examination of rites, rituals, and customs of the Indian religions and a keen reader of various genres of Sanskrit literature, starting from the Vedas.
Week 1-8, Wednesdays, 3.00-4.00 (GMT)
Valters Negribs, Shree Nahata
The informal weekly Pāli reading group aims to bring together scholars and students alike to read and discuss Pāli texts. Attendees will have the opportunity to take turns reading the selected text and engage in lively discussion.
This term we will be reading verses from the Dhammapada along with the Aṭṭhakathā commentary. The commentary provides a narrative frame which explains the circumstances under which the Dhammapada verse was spoken by the Buddha. We will focus on those stories where the Dhammapada verses are said to have been spoken for the benefit of laymen. The Dhammapada has been recognised to contain much general wisdom that is not particularly Buddhist or does not directly pertain to the Buddhist path to awakening. This wisdom literature provides a key link between early Buddhism and texts from other traditions such as the Mahābhārata.
The text of the Dhammapada Aṭṭhakathā can be accessed here.
Valters Negribs is a visiting fellow at the OCHS. He works on ascetic literature in Ancient India, with a focus on the Mahābhārata. Shree Nahata is a DPhil student working on Indian philosophy.