Lecture List
Trinity Term 2023

Sunday 23rd April – Saturday 17th June 2023

OCHS lectures and seminars will be held in accordance with University policy.

Sanskrit Prelims

Week 1-4, Wednesday 4.30-6.00, Friday 2.30-4.00
OCHS Library
Professor Gavin Flood FBA

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 (Pali for Sanskritists)

Week 1-4, Tuesday 4.00-5.30, Thursday, 4.00-5.30
OCHS Library
Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen

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. The Pali course is designed to providean 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 Dhammapada and 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).

Readings in Vedānta

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

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 are reading Vedānta Deśika’s Nyāsa- viṃśati, a short but influential treatise on surrender to God from the fourteenth century.

Readings in Middle Bengali: Vaṃśī Śikṣā

Weeks 1-4, Thursday 12.00-1.00
OCHS Library
Dr Lucian Wong

The Vaṃśī Śikṣā is a Middle Bengali Vaiṣṇava text ascribed to the early eighteenth century author Premadāsa Miśra, who is associated with the Baghnapara community of Vaiṣṇavas in the district of Bardhaman. The text principally deals with an esoteric form of practice known as rāsarājopāsana, or worship of the king of taste. The interpretation of this practice has been an issue of some contention in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava scholarship for some time. In these group reading sessions, we will read and discuss sections of the text that pertain to rasarājopāsana, attempting to decipher the nature of the practice and its possible significance in broader Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava history.

Readings in Phenomenology

Weeks 1-4, Mondays 12.00-1.00
OCHS Library
Professor Gavin Flood FBA

Our reading group will continue to get to grips with the late Heidegger and will read essays from Basic Writings, beginning with ‘On The Way to Language’.

Indian Philosophy and Religion Seminars

Week 3 and 7, Wednesday, 4.30-6.00
OCHS Library
Dr Jessica Frazier

This series of regular seminars brings together scholars and students working on Indic philosophies and religions. It focuses on topics of current research: in each session, two people will present a context they are investigating for 20min, and then open it for discussion on key questions. All researchers, graduates and finalists in all areas are welcome to join.

Week 3, Wednesday 10th May, 4.30-6.00

Dr Szilvia Szanyi: “Is shape real? A contested category of perception in Abhidharma philosophy.”

Shree Nahata: ‘Eat Curd, Not Camel! Dharmakīrti and Akalaṅka on anekāntavāda’
This presentation examines the Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti’s (c. 600-660 CE) objections to the Jaina theory of many-sidedness (anekāntavāda) and the Jaina philosopher Akalaṅka’s (c. 720-780 CE) response to these objections. Besides discussing the relevant philosophical ideas, this presentation highlights the role of misunderstanding, humour, narrative biography, and pointed moral critique in this entertaining philosophical vignette.

Week 7, Wednesday 7th June, 4.30-6.00

Prof Jan Westerhoff: The double moon (dvicandra) example, solipsism, and the private language argument.

Kassandra Dugi: ‘‘Like Grain Springing up in a Well Cleaned Field’: Self-Attachment, Meditative Absorption and Wisdom in Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra’.
In his commentary on Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra, Prajñākaramati explains that ‘like grain springing up in a well cleaned field, wisdom appears in the mental continuum completely purified by mental calm.’ Taking this analogy as a starting point, this presentation will question the standard interpretation of the Bodhicaryāvatāra’s most famous passage (8.90-103) as defending a particular ethical stance on the basis ofanātmanand/or emptiness, by re-examining the relationship between self-attachment, meditative absorption and wisdom within the Bodhicaryāvatāra.

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

Challenging Expectations: Interpreting the Bengali Satya Nārāyaṇer Puthi of Kavivallabh

Week 2, Thursday 4th May, 2.00-3.00
OCHS Library
Professor Tony Stewart

The early modern Bengali literatures dedicated to the figure of Satya Pīr and Satya Nārāyaṇ are voluminous, second only to the vast Vaiṣṇav corpus generated by the followers of Kṛṣṇa Caitanya. But apart from editing the manuscripts and on occasion retelling his marvel-filled stories, the texts have evaded the critical eye of scholars. I invite you to join me in a collective attempt (seminar style) to interpret a text variously titled Satya Nārāyaṇer Puthi or Satya Pīrer Puthi of Kavivallabh (copies of its translation will be made available in advance*). This will be an exegetical exercise that should reveal some of the hermeneutical complexities in taking seriously the miraculous and fabulous events recorded in these religious narratives that are routinely dismissed as simplistic folk tales or fairy tales.

* My unabridged translation appears in Needle at the Bottom of the Sea: Bengali Tales from the Land of the Eighteen Tides (University of California Press, 2023), pp. 341-72.

Alternatives to the Gosvāmī Master Narrative: Vernacular Explorations in the Vaiṣṇav Imagination of the 16th-18th c.

Week 6, Thursday 1st June, 2.00-3.00
OCHS Library
Professor Tony Stewart

The persuasive master narrative of the life of Caitanya articulated by Kṛṣṇadās Kavirāj, which was itself grounded in the weight of the Gosvāmīs’ corporate theology, eventually imposed a monologic that has effectively silenced, or at least sidelined (but did not completely eliminate) other voices. Over the last century and a half, the power of institutionalized print culture has solidified this hold. From the earliest period there were followers who celebrated the gaur nāgar bhāv,nadiyā nāgar bhāv, and sakhi bhāv, all voices that have been muffled and even on occasion attacked, while individuals who articulated sahajiyā style interpretations have been routinely marginalized. And we know, for instance, that the powerful community in Bāghnāpāḍā gave rise to a unique perspective on the life of Caitanya and his identification with Kṛṣṇa, with ritual forms appropriate to that vision. I wish to argue that the early history of the Vaiṣṇavs in Bengal is a much more vibrant exploration of intellectual and devotional possibilities than the mainstream today acknowledges. And much of the evidence can be found in the troves of unpublished Bengali manuscripts in the repositories of Bengal. I want to share a handful of examples from those unpublished works that suggest we are not done writing the early history of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇav community in Bengal.

Professor Tony K. Stewart retired from teaching in 2021 and is now the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities, Emeritus, 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 monograph titled The Final Word: the Caitanya Caritamrta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition (Oxford 2010). This work was preceded by a translation of 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, especially Sufi, literatures of the Bangla-speaking world (West Bengal and 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 the plural Bengali society of the premodern period. In Fabulous Females and Peerless Pirs: Tales of Mad Adventure in Old Bengal (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 prompted 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 fictional heroes who extend their help and protection to anyone regardless of sectarian affiliation. This work was awarded the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize of the Association for Asian Studies in 2021.Unabridged translations of many of those tales appear in Needle at the Bottom of the Sea: Bengali Tales from the Land of the Eighteen Tides (California, 2023). His current work focuses on alternative communal narratives in the first centuries of Gaudiya Vaisnava history.

Lectures of the Shivdasani Visiting Fellow

Gendering Jajmani, Caste-ing Monastic Governmentality and Capital

Week 3, Thursday 11th May, 2.00-3.00
OCHS Library
Professor Indrani Chatterjee

In 1855, Rashmoni, a widow of the caste of fishermen, built a large temple on the bank of the Ganges. Then she employed three very poor rural Brahmin men to serve as priests, paying each a small cash-salary, supplemented with annuals gifts of cloth, grain and fuel. Historians of medieval India have long characterized such temple- construction as royal activity, capping their status of yajamans (colloquially jajman) or patrons of ritual (yajna). By this reckoning, Rashmoni’s actions should have also qualified her as a royal yajaman. Yet neither postcolonial nor feminist historians of South Asia have written of these lower-caste widows as royal patrons. What explains their silence? This talk aims to open up the intersections of gender, governmentality and capital through the peculiar relationship identified in jajmani in the records of the first half of the nineteenth century in eastern South Asia.

Indrani Chatterjee is a Professor of History at the University of Texas, Austin. In her pioneering work over the past twenty-five years, Chatterjee has illuminated new dimensions of a variety of underexplored themes in South Asia’s past—including slavery, the household, and monasticism—and has critically reappraised gender and sexuality as frameworks in South Asian history. Her published works include: Gender, Slavery, and Law in Colonial India (OUP 1999), Unfamiliar Relations: Family and History in South Asia (ed. Permanent Black 2004), and Forgotten Friends: Monks, Marriages, Memories of Northeast India (OUP 2013).

Other Talks and Seminars

Potential Avenues for Research on Tantric Forms of Vaiṣṇavism in Bengal (Vaiṣṇava Sahajiyā)

Week 2, Wednesday 3rd May, 3.00-4.00
OCHS Library
Dr Robert Czyżykowski

Research on premodern Tantric groups related to the Caitanya (or Gauḍīya) Vaiṣṇava tradition of Bengal is rather rare and difficult for many reasons, such as limited data and the esoteric language of the texts. In this paper, I propose to critically look at the textual sources with occasional reference to field reports indicating potential areas for fruitful academic exploration in this domain, highlight mutual influence among various Sahajiyā works and their origins. The presentation will be based on the author’s exploration of largely unpublished Middle Bengali sources. I will focus in particular on the Niguḍārthaprakāśāvalī (‘A ray on hidden meanings’), which survives in only three manuscripts, two of which are available in public collections (Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, Kolkata, and the Sukumar Sen collection in the National Library in Kolkata). The text stands as a rare example of explicit commentarial effort in the premodern Sahajiyā corpus, one in which earlier texts are recognized as foundational for the tradition – or at least for the Sahajiyā line established by influential Sahajiyā author and guru, Mukundadeva or Mukunda Gosvami). The Niguḍārthaprakāśāvalī is also unique in offering details about the sexual rituals of the Sahajiyā tradition.

Robert Czyżykowski obtained a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Jagiellonian University (2011) and is currently an assistant professor in the Institute for the Study of Religions at Jagiellonian University, Krakow Poland. His work focusses on Hinduism, vernacular Bengali Tantric tradition, and religious experience.

Ordeals and Judicial Wagers

Week 4, Thursday 18th May, 11.00-12.00
OCHS Library
Professor Dr Harald Weise

‘This Lecture is about an Old Indian judicial institution called paṇa (“wager”). Within a court proceeding, a judicial wager is a certain sum of money that a conflicting party offers to pay if he ends up losing his case. This paper explains the rationale of judicial wagers by showing that they may signal truthfulness.’

Professor Dr Weise is an Economist and Indologist from the University of Leipzig.

Artist in Residence Talk: Art, Non-dualism, and the Divine

Week 4, Thursday 18th May, 2.00-3.00
OCHS Library
Rosanna Dean

Rosanna will discuss how her art practice is led by her study of yoga, philosophy & Sanskrit alongside a broader focus on the importance of female authorship of cultural foundational stories. Her work brings together divergent ways in which the divine is represented from East to West and are meditations on non-dualism and how the stories we are told shape our future. She is currently using painting, meditation, physical yoga & sound to explore concepts such as Para, the point at which form again touches formlessness and the Sadhana’s psychosomatic efforts to assimilate one’s body to higher and higher levels of cosmic body pattern. She will pose questions about where this work can be positioned, authorship and the importance of listening.

Rosanna Dean is a multi-disciplinary artist living in London. She received her MA from the Royal College of Art (2019), studied old master painting in Florence at the Angel Academy (2014). She has spoken on spiritual practice in contemporary art at the Courtauld Institute of Art and following a year residency at the Florence Trust received EU funding to develop her work exploring and converging different ways of representing the divine. Her journey with yoga began 12 years ago discovering ashtanga following a sudden and traumatic experience with death. In 2020 she went to India to deepen her yoga practice, qualifying as an Ashtanga yoga teacher in Mysore and researching ritual practices including Tantra and Theyyam in Karnataka.

Sapiens and Sthitaprajna

Week 5, Thursday 25th May, 2.00-3.00
OCHS Library
Dr Ashwini Mokashi

This lecture will present the concept of a wise person in the Stoic Seneca and in the Bhagavad-gītā. Although the Gītā and Seneca’s writings were composed at least two centuries apart, and a continent apart, they have much in common in recommending a well-lived life. This lecture will examine how a wise person in both texts is endowed with virtue and wisdom, is moral, makes right judgements, and takes responsibility for actions. A wise and virtuous person alwavs enjoys happiness, as happiness consists knowing that one has done the right thing at the right time. Both Seneca and the Gītā demand intellectual rigour and wisdom for leading a virtuous and ettective life. They provide guidelines for how to become and be wise. Both systems demand a sage to be emotionally sound and devoid of passions. This leads to mental peace and balance, and ultimatelv to tranquillitv and happiness. This lecture will explore these issues in a comparative context.

Against Infinite Nothingness:
Arguments for an Ultimate Foundation of Reality in Indian and Western Philosophy

Week 4-6, Wednesdays, 3.00-4.00
OCHS Library
Dr Jessica Frazier

Indian and Western philosophy both contain debates about whether there is any ultimate foundation to reality.  Must there be a fundamental ground of things? And if so, what would it have to be like? Alternatively, could phenomena float free of each other, un-united and ungrounded by deeper causation or constitution? This conflict between scepticism and metaphysical foundations has taken place in different traditions through history, including Classical Indian Buddhists and Vedantins, and Modern Philosophers of grounding and causation. 

In these three seminars we debate arguments for an ultimate metaphysical ground of things. Borrowing from Vedanta’s medieval arguments against Buddhist nihilism, we will discuss whether the arguments succeed, and what kind of ultimate reality they might show. 

Wednesday 17th May, 3pm
Philosophies of Fragments or Foundations? Buddhist arguments for Finite Flux vs Vedanta’s Fundamental Unity 

Wednesday 24th May, 3pm: 
What Shapes Reality? Vedantins Grounding the Modal Coherence of Reality in a Single Power 

Wednesday 31st May, 3pm: 
Ultimate Stuff, Power or Space? Buddhists Sceptics and Vedantic Monists Coming Together at Last


The Sanskrit Traditions Symposium

Week 6, Friday 2nd June
Trinity College

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.

Further details to be announced.