Lecture List
Trinity Term 2024

Sunday 21 April – Saturday 15 June 2024

Library opening hours are Monday to Friday, 9.30-5.30.

Sanskrit Prelims

Weeks 1-4, Wednesday, 4.30-6.00,
Friday, 10.30-12.00, OCHS Library
Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen

The course provides an introduction to Sanskrit for the preliminary paper of the Theology and Religion Faculty in Elementary Sanskrit. 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

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

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 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). 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 and week 1-4 of Trinity Term, Sanskrit and Pali will be taught as two separate courses, i.e. Sanskrit Prelims and Pali Prelims (i.e. Pali for Sanskritists).

Readings in Vedānta

Weeks 1-8, Thursday, 12.00-1.00, 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.

Readings in Phenomenology

Weeks 1-8, Monday, 12.00-1.00, OCHS Library
Prof. Gavin Flood FBA 

This term we will firstly focus on the question ‘what is a thing?’ and we will read Husserl’s 1907 lecture, Thing and Space and Heidegger’s What is a Thing? This is an important question in Phenomenology as it addresses the question of the relation between world and perception and is foundational to later phenomenological reflection of body and spatial orientation. Secondly, related to ‘the thing’ question, we will read selections of Husserl’s Die Lebenswelt.

Senior Seminars in Indian Philosophy

Week 3, Friday 10 May, 4.30-6.00, OCHS Library
Week 7, Wednesday 5 June, 4.30-6.00, OCHS Library
Dr Jessica Frazier

These seminars explore different topics in philosophy through Indian material: there will be discussion of two short presentations on a question, source or idea/argument in Indian Philosophy. All are welcome.

Week 3

  • Shruthi Matthews: Vasubandhu’s Metaphors
    This talk places figurative language in Vasubandhu’s Viṃśikā under the lens of conceptual metaphor theory.  I argue that figurative expressions here are more than just examples. Rather, the imagery of dreams and hells are ‘new metaphors’, where Vasubandhu reconfigures old imagery to create new similarities. Through counter-intuitive comparisons, he shifts the locus of experienced reality from the external object to the mind. Attentiveness to the modes of metaphor at play in the text point us, then, to Vasubandhu’s own innovations in argument and doctrine.
  • Kassandra Dugi: Do Mādhyamikas Believe in Free Will? Śāntideva on Intention, Agency and Causation
    This talk will focus on BCA 6.22-32 and argue that rather than providing a potential Madhyamaka response to the question of whether we have free will, as is commonly assumed, these verses much more radically seek to challenge our notions about the nature and causes of action altogether, thus rendering any discussion about the existence of free will fundamentally untenable.

Week 7

  • Monima Chadha: Title to be confirmed
  • Rembert Lutjeharms: “A Slight Error”? Vedānta, Mādhyamaka, and the eternality of consciousness
    In his Tattva-saṅgraha (330), the Buddhist thinker Śāntarakṣita evaluates Vedānta views, and writes that he find these ideas rather reasonable, except that they make the “slight error” in asserting that consciousness is eternal. This session will examine this claim, to see whether the difference between Vedānta and Mādhyamaka thought really is only so slight.

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

Some Observations on the Translation and Study of the Vivarta vilāsa of Ākiñcanadāsa

Week 2, Thursday 2 May, 2.00-3.00, OCHS Library
Prof. Glen A. Hayes

Functioning as a commentary, the Vivarta vilāsa of Ākiñcanadāsa (ca. 1625) directly reinterprets the foundational Caitanya caritāmṛta of Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, serving as a tantric Sahajiyā appropriation of the classic Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava hagiography. In some 2500 couplets, the author distills what he considers the tantric essence of Kṛṣṇadāsa’s renowned theology. Importantly, this is not a casual act of piracy or an arbitrary choice, for the authority supporting this sophisticated interpretation rests not only on his skill as an exegete, but bears the direct imprimatur of his guru lineage that begins with Kṛṣṇadāsa and his disciple Mukundadāsa or Mukundadeva, then his student Rasika, who was in turn guru to Vihari, Akiñcanadāsa’s guru. In this process of proof texting and appropriation, Ākiñcanadāsa selectively quotes passages from the Caitanya caritāmṛta, seeking to legitimate antinomian and transgressive Sahajiyā practices such as the literal and practical application of parakīyā bhāva—the experience of the “love of another”—as well as visualization sequences involving a subtle “divine body” as it journeys through idyllic interior regions, leading to the transcendent realms of Sahajapur—the “innate place.” In this talk, I will also suggest the uses of translation strategies involving analysis of metaphorical language and utilizing conceptual blending theory in the study of esoteric texts, especially those with complex terminologies and cosmologies.

Glen A. Hayes is Professor Emeritus of Religion at Bloomfield College of Montclair State University (NJ, USA). He received his Ph.D. in History of Religions from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1985, where he studied with Edward C, Dimock, Jr., J.A.B. van Buitenen, Mircea Eliade, Jonathan Z. Smith, and Frank Reynolds. His dissertation examined the dynamics of body symbolism in Bengali Hindu tantric traditions. He co-founded the Society for Tantric Studies in 1986, and serves as its chairperson. He co-founded the Tantric Studies unit of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) in 2003, and has served as a co-chair. He has been a steering committee member of the Cognitive Science of Religion unit of the American Academy of Religion. He has published numerous studies of the Vaiṣṇava Sahajiyā tantric traditions of Bengal, including translations of primary texts. He has also explored the uses of metaphor theory and conceptual blending theory in the study of tantra. He continues to conduct research in Vaiṣṇava Sahajiyā texts, as well as in cognitive science.  He is co-editor (with Richard K. Payne) of the Oxford Handbook of Tantric Studies.

Lecture of the Shivdasani Visiting Fellow

On the Ontology of the World in the Nineteenth Century Vaṃśīdhara Śarman’s One Hundred Interpretations of Bhāgavata 1.1.1.

Week 3, Thursday 9 May, 2.00-3.00, OCHS Library
Dr S. Bhuvaneshwari

Vaṃśīdhara Śarman, who lived in Mathurā in the latter part of the nineteenth century, is known for his multiple interpretations of the Bhāgavatapurāṇa. We know three of his important works related to the Bhāgavata, viz., (1) an independent commentary on the first three invocatory verses of the Bhāgavata. He provides one hundred interpretations of the first verse, two interpretations of the second verse, and one (aesthetic) interpretation of the third verse. (2) A sub-commentary titled Bhāvārthadīpikāprakāśīkā on all the twelve Skandhas. It is a gloss on the famous Bhāvārthadīpikā commentary of Śrīdhara Svāmin (fourteenth-fifteenth century). Here again, Vaṃśīdhara provides multiple commentaries on the invocatory verses. (3) An indexical work known as Līlākalpadruma. Of which, the first two works were published in 1965. The first work appeared as part of a compilation titled  Śrīmadbhāgavatamāhātmyasandoha by Kṛṣṇaśaṅkara Śāstrī in 1965. The sub-commentary Prakāśikā was included with several other commentaries on Bhāgavata edited by Kṛṣṇaśaṅkara Śāstrī and published in the same year (1965). Details about the publication of the third work are not known to me yet. Of these three works, I propose to focus on Vaṃśīdhara’s independent commentary consisting of one hundred interpretations of Bhāgavata 1.1.1. My main objective is to closely analyse his hundred interpretations of the expression “yatra trisargo’mṛsā”  (Bhāgavata, 1.1.1c) in order to understand Vaṃśīdhara’s ontological interpretations of the world. Based on the outcome of this study, I propose to formulate Vaṃśīdhara’s theory of the world in contrast to the theories of the world advocated in the schools of Vedānta. 

S. Bhuvaneshwari is an independent scholar based in Chennai (India) and a Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She holds a PhD (2010) in Indian Philosophy (Advaita Vedānta) from the Department of Sanskrit, University of Madras and had a post-doctoral research position at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT-Madras from 2016 to 2017 where she worked in the field of Advaita Vedānta and Pūrvamīmāṃsā. She has lectured on Indian Philosophy and Aesthetics in numerous institutes in India. She has authored three books viz., A Treatise on Advaita Vedānta: English Translation of Vicāracandrodaya of Pandit Pitambar (2013), The Pedagogical Concern: An Analysis of Sanskrit Vicārasāgara of Vāsudeva  Brahmendra Sarasvatī (2015) and An Ocean of Enquiry: Vicārsāgar of Sādhu Niścaldās – An  English Translation of Sanskrit Vicārasāgara in two volumes (2017). She brought to light two unpublished manuscripts on Advaita viz., Saṃnyāsavicāra: An Enquiry into Renunciation  (2016) and Advaitasiddhipatram: A Critical Review of the Second Definition of Falsity – Two  Fresh Arguments (2018). She has published over thirty research papers in the field of Indian  Philosophy and Aesthetics. She is a classical dancer (Bharatanatyam) and has performed in both the classical and Indian contemporary styles. She has been part of the Bhāgavatapurāṇa Project of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies since 2016. She serves in various capacities promoting academic research and writing at the Adyar Library and Research Centre (Chennai),  Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (Pune), and the Chinmaya International Foundation  (Kerala). 

Lecture of the Behl Fellow

“Gaurasundara Truly Resides in His Body”: Mādhavendra Purī and the Caitanya Sampradāya

Week 5, Thursday 23 May, 2.00-3.00, OCHS Library
Dr Abhishek Bose

Mādhavendra Purī is recognised as one of the major initiators predating Caitanya Mahāprabhu in that sampradāya, and yet, he remains an enigmatic figure in their history and memory. Though almost all the biographies of Mahāprabhu refer to Mādhavendra at some point, it is problematic reconstructing his life-story as an individual and his contribution to the movement based on those references. It holds true for the recognised (sacred) texts in the Caitanya sampradāya as well as contemporary scholarship that Mādhavendra’s role is yet to be evaluated in a comprehensive manner. During my search for the last few years, I have realised that Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s recognition of Mādhavendra as the first shoot of Bhakti has to be revisited for more than one reason. Firstly, the majority of the key associates/allies of Mahāprabhu can be traced back to the lineage or circle of Mādhavendra. Secondly, most of the ‘pilgrimage’ routes traversed by Caitanya follow the footsteps of Mādhavendra. Moreover, all the sites established by Caitanya as important centres of the sampradāya can be shown to be operating from Madhavendra’s times. Also, the tales about Mādhavendra Purī displays a symptomatic predilection towards prema-bhakti, which is identified as the defining marker of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the Caitanya sampradāya. I am trying to understand the moment of Mādhavendra, historically and ideologically, raising questions, all of which might not have answers at this point, but engaging with them are nonetheless crucial in order to understand the formative period of the Caitanya sampradāya.

Abhishek Bose locates himself as someone working at the intersection. He is a researcher, poet, translator and theatre practitioner – not necessarily in that order. His areas of interest include Art & Aesthetics, Literary Theory, Bhakti Movement, Performance Studies and Orality. Bose teaches Comparative Indian Language and Literature at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata. His doctoral research at Jadavpur University was supported by a fellowship from the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (SYLFF).  He has formerly been a Visiting Fellow at York University, Canada. Some of his present researches are The Vaishnava Encyclopaedia Project at BRC, Kolkata; editing and translating the Gaurāngavijaya manuscript at the Asiatic Society, Kolkata; Towards an Oral History of Kīrtana under the aegis of the Indian Council of Social Science Research and the Śikṣaṣṭakam at the Vrindavan Research Institute. He writes in both Bangla and English – in academic journals as well as popular media. Baul Premik by Sanatan Das Baul and Kabi Tabo Manobhumi – a collection of interviews with Ramkatha performers across India are two latest publications edited by him.

Other Lectures and Seminars

Panentheism and Theistic Cosmopsychism: God and the Cosmos in the Bhavagad Gītā

Week 6, Thursday 30 May, 2.00-3.00, OCHS Library
Dr Ricardo Silvestre

There seems to be something of a consensus among scholars of Hindu studies that the use of Western theological-philosophical categories to analyze Indian religious traditions may obfuscate and even distort some of their important and innate characteristics. While there are certainly strong historical reasons behind such a view, contemporary analytic philosophy of religion seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Recent years have seen an increase in interest in what has been called cross-cultural philosophy of religion. The motivation for this new field of research lies both in the need for new dialogues between Western philosophy and non-Western traditions, and in the conviction that this kind of initiative can bring mutual benefits. Although the range of interests is wide, two debates seem to stand out in cross-cultural philosophy of religion: the cross-cultural debate over panentheism and Indian models of God, and the connections between cosmopsychism and Indian traditions. Panentheism—the thesis that the cosmos is in God (or in the divine), although God is more than the cosmos—has seen a revival over the past two decades in the philosophical literature. This has partially triggered an interest in Indian models of God, which have traditionally been seen as panentheistic. On the other hand, panentheism has been often associated with panpsychism, an old ontological view that sees consciousness as fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world and which has also enjoyed a renaissance in recent decades. Depending on where one places fundamentality (whether on the microlevel or on the cosmic-level) there will be two types of panpsychism: micropsychism and cosmopsychism. If we agree on this taxonomy and embrace a panentheistic view which contains the idea of God as the ontologically fundamental entity whose consciousness ontologically supports everything, then panentheism will be considered a kind of cosmopsychism, and consequently a kind of panpsychism (we might term this theistic cosmopsychism.) It is no coincidence then that there has been recent interest within analytic philosophy about the connections between Indian traditions and panpsychism, especially in its cosmopsychist version. My purpose in this talk is to contribute to these two debates by examining one of the most important and often quoted texts in Indian religious and philosophical traditions: the Bhavagad Gītā. From a more specific standpoint, the talk has a threefold goal: to offer a panentheistic reconstruction of the Gītā’s concept of God, to show how this panentheistic model of God entails a form of theistic cosmopsychism, and to locate the Gītā’s cosmopsychism within a broader map of cosmopsychist views. Based on this reconstructive analysis of the relationship between God and the Cosmos in the Gītā, I will outline some few reflections on the possible fruitfulness of such a cross-cultural endeavor for both Hindu studies and contemporary analytic philosophy.

Ricardo Sousa Silvestre holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Montreal (Canada). He was a Visiting Scholar at San José State University (USA), the University of Oxford (UK), the University of Notre Dame (USA) and the University of Québec (Canada). He has authored and edited several books, including the volumes “Vaiṣṇava Concepts of God: Philosophical Perspectives” (Routledge, 2024) and “Beyond Faith and Rationality: Essays on Logic, Religion and Philosophy” (Springer, 2020), and authored over 40 papers and book chapters on Logic, Philosophy of Religion and Epistemology. He is currently guest-editing a special issue on “Concepts of God in Indian Religious Traditions” of Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions, which will be published in June 2024. He is currently Professor at the Federal University of Campina Grande and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (both in Brazil). He is also the leader of the project “Concepts of God and the Variety of Theisms in Indian Traditions: Towards a Theistic Theory of Consciousness”, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

A Tapestry of Devotion: The Bhāgavata Traditions Before Caitanya

Week 7, Thursday 6 June, 2.00-3.00, OCHS Library
Prof. Kiyokazu Okita

Since Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism flourished rather late in the long history of the Indian intellectual thought, its theology is substantially indepted to the late medieval thinkers that preceded the tradition. For example, in his Tattva-sandarbha (Anuccheda 23), Jīva Gosvāmī, one of the founding fathers of Gauḍīya theology, lists some of the significant commentarial works on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa that preceded him. The list includes both well-known commentaries such as Śrīdhara Svāmī’s Bhāvārthadīpikā in the fourteenth century, as well as other obscure commentaries such as the Hanumadbhāṣya, which are currently not available. Simply looking at Jīva’s list we may surmise the wealth of diversity surrounding the Bhāgavata traditions from which the Gauḍīya theologians draw inspirations.

In this talk I explore this richness of the Bhāgavata traditions in the pre-Caitanya preiod, as well as the Gauḍīya tradition’s complex engagements with them in the following four aspects: (1) ontology, (2) exegesis, (3) aesthetics, and (4) ethics. In the first section on ontology, I examine the dualistic approach to the Bhāgavata presented by Madhva in the thirteenth century. While both premodern and modern scholars often view the Bhāgavata to be non-dualistic, Madhva’s commentary sheds light on the dualistic elements in the text. I then argue that Madhva’s dualistic approach influenced the Vedāntic writings of the Gauḍīya thinkers such as Jīva.

In the second section of exegesis, I explore Vopadeva and Hemādri’s approach to the Bhāgavata, focusing on the Harilīlā and its sub-commentary the Harilīlāviveka, both of which were written in the thirteenth century. The Harilīlā was the first indexical work on the Bhāgavata. As such, the later commentators including Śrīdhara Svāmī acknowledged its approach to the Bhāgavata although they disagreed with the Harilīlā and offered their new perspectives at the same time. After providing an overview on the Harilīlā, I will look at its influence on Sanātana Gosvāmī’s Vaiṣṇavatoṣaṇī, one of the earliest Gauḍīya commentaries on the Bhāgavata.

In the third section of aesthetics, we trace the history of devotional aesthetic sentiment (bhakti-rasa), exploring the Muktāphala, Vopadeva’s another on the Bhāgavata, and the Kaivalyadīpikā, Hemādri’s commentary on it, both written in the thirteenth century. In the Kaivalyadīpikā we find for the first time a theorization of devotion as aesthetic sentiment, using the technical terms of Sanskrit dramaturgy and poetics. Lakṣmīdhara’s Bhagavannāmakaumudī in the fourteenth century further situated devotion and in the context of the rasa discourse. We then examine how these authors influenced the notion of bhakti-rasa as articulated by Rūpa and Jīva Gosvāmīs.

Finally in the fourth section of ethics, I explore the influence of a vernacular tradition on Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, by examining Maladhar Basu aka Guṇarāj Khān’s Śrīkṛṣṇavijay in the fifteenth century. The work is a rendition in Middle Bengali of the tenth and the eleventh books in the Bhāgavata. The nature of Kṛṣṇa’s relationship with the Gopīs became a controversial topic later in the history of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, particularly in the eighteenth century. Partly due to the complexity of the Bhāgavata, some authors such as Jīva and Kṛṣṇadeva Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya argued that the Gopīs were married to Kṛṣṇa (svakīyā) while others like Viśvanātha Cakravartī insisted that they were not (parakīyā). I argue that the Śrīkṛṣṇavijay contributed to the development of the latter view by flattening the Bhāgavata’s rich discourse on Kṛṣṇa’s dealings with the Gopīs. Overall, this presentation is an attempt to highlight some of the complex ways in which the Gauḍīya authors engaged with the diverse Bhāgavata traditions that preceded them.

Kiyokazu Okita is Associate Professor of Hindu Studies at Faculty of Liberal Arts and at Graduate Program in Global Studies, Sophia University, Tokyo. He is also a research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. He is the author of Hindu Theology in Early Modern South Asia (Oxford University Press, 2014) as well as the editor of The Building of Vṛndāvana (Brill, 2024. Co-edited with Dr. Rembert Lutjeharms). He has published articles in various academic journals such as Journal of Indian Philosophy, International Journal of Hindu Studies, and Journal of Vaishnava Studies. In his current research project, The Aesthetic Theories of Devotion in Late Medieval South Asia funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion Science (2023-27), Okita traces a history of devotional aesthetic sentiment (bhakti-rasa) that emerged after the tenth century.

The Rāmakathā in Bengali Paṭacitras

Week 8, Thursday 13 June, 2.00-3.00, OCHS Library
Prof. Mandakranta Bose

Among the countless versions and forms of the Rāmāyaṇa in India and elsewhere a notable form consists of painted scenes that narrate the epic sequentially, frame by frame, each displayed by the painter who sings the episode of the tale shown in the painting. This is a form of public art, hybrid in its nature as an amalgam of the visual and the verbal, serving as much as entertainment as public instruction in an established religious narrative. These paintings are a type of the genre known as paṭacitra that has flourished in many parts of India from very early times, particularly in Bengal and Orissa, portraying mainly though not exclusively religious subjects. The Rāmāyaṇa paṭas that I propose to talk about—with illustrative slides—have been and continue to be produced almost exclusively in some districts of West Bengal by generations of village painters. My interest in them rests on their primary identity as communal art founded on a historically established narrative of thematic and ideological unity, but a unity that is subject to occasional interrogation by way of episodic alterations. To understand this dynamic, I present three questions for discussion: a) in what ways is the commonly known Rāma narrative manipulated by individual painters, b) to what ends, and c) what impact is achieved by the multimedia strategy of presentation, that is, telling the story both visually and verbally.

Mandakranta Bose is Professor Emerita at the University of British Columbia where she taught in the Religious Studies Department and directed the Centre for India and South Asian Research. She researches on textual traditions and performing arts of India, Sanskrit literature, the Rāmāyaṇa, Hinduism and gender, with many publications in these areas. Among her publications are a critical edition of two Sanskrit musicological texts (the Nartananirṇaya, the Sangitanarayana), Women in the Hindu Tradition (Routledge 2010), A Woman’s Rāmāyaṇa: Candrāvatī’s Bengali Epic with Sarika P. Bose (Routledge, 2013), and she edited the Oxford History of Hinduism volume on The Goddess (OUP, 2018).

Other Readings

The Ontology of Devotional Aesthetic Sentiment: Vopadeva’s Muktāphala with Hemādri’s Kaivalyadīpikā Commentary, Chapter 1

Weeks 2, 4, 6, 8, Tuesday, 3.30-4.30, OCHS Library
Prof. Kiyokazu Okita

These Sanskrit works are important in understanding the history of bhakti-rasa as they are the first systematic works to elaborate the concept (Lutjeharms 2018, Pollock 2016). Although two printed editions are available, their readings are not always reliable and considerable textual improvements can be made by examining manuscripts. Moreover, these texts have not been studied closely except for the initial sections in Ch11 which deal directly with the concept of bhakti-rasa. However, to fully appreciate the bhakti-rasa concept according to Vopadeva-Hemādri I suggest that it is crucial to grasp its ontological presuppositions.  In this reading session, based on three manuscripts and two printed editions I explore Vopadeva-Hemādri’s ontological view on Viṣṇu and individual souls (jīva) found in Chapter 1, Viṣṇu-prakaraṇa.


God and Consciousness in Indian Traditions

Week 4, 15-17 May, Worcester College, University of Oxford

Divinity in some theistic (or theistically inclined) Indian religions is often conceived monotheistically, as a supreme OmniGod (much like in Western accounts of God). Monotheistic conceptions of God occur in Śaivism, Śāktism, Vaiṣṇavism, Sikhism as well as Indian reiterations of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. There are also arguably monotheistic concepts of God given by the Indian philosophical schools (darśanas), such as Vedānta, Nyāya, and Yoga.

Despite the evidence for a general Indian religious disposition towards monotheism, Indian concepts of God can exhibit certain peculiarities that distance them from the traditional idea of monotheism. For example, some Indian conceptions of God revolve around God’s being united with the world and finite conscious beings in various ways. This is the heart of the famous Vedānta debate about the relationship between Brahman – the ultimate conscious reality – and the rest of existence, and of a wide variety of theistic views on the relation between ultimate conscious reality and the world. Interpretations range through idealism, qualified monism, dualism, and a mixture of monism and dualism (as in the different theories of bhedābheda, or difference and non-difference).

Boundaries, Liminality, and Heterodoxy in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism

Week 5, Saturday 25 May, OCHS Library

Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism – named after Gauḍa, the ancient name of its Bengali homeland – is one of South Asia’s most influential devotional traditions. Inspired by the ecstatic Kṛṣṇa devotee Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya (1486-1533), the tradition emerged in sixteenth century Bengal, deeply shaped by earlier forms of Vaiṣṇava devotion propagated in the region. While Caitanya has always been the devotional focus of the tradition, from its inception Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism has never had a centralised authority nor a clear institutional structure. Distinct Gauḍīya lineages emerged from Caitanya’s principal followers, and each developed in their own distinct way, while being bound to each other not just by common devotional focus but also by some shared texts and, to a lesser degree, shared practices. For centuries the tradition did not even have a name for itself: Gauḍīyas opted for the common—and broadest—designation of “Vaiṣṇava” and the term Gauḍīya only sheds its geographic designation and becomes a distinctly religious term in recent times. What then makes one a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava? What are the boundaries of the tradition? What constitutes “orthodox” vis-à-vis “heterodox” Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism? Do such ubiquitous categories help or hinder critical analysis of the tradition? This symposium will explore such issues, by examining the way Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava authors have positioned themselves in relation to other Vaiṣṇava traditions, and exploring the complex intersections of “orthodox” and “heterodox” Vaiṣṇava groups in Bengal and beyond.

The Sanskrit Traditions Symposium

Week 6, Friday 31 May, Trinity College, University of Oxford

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.

Sign up for the conference here.

Text and Ritual in Śākta Traditions Conference

Week 7, 3-4 June, Online
Dr Janaki Nair

As part of the Śākta mudrā project under Śākta traditions research programme (https://ochs.org.uk/sakta-mudras/), this conference will explore the performative cult of Śrīkula and Kālīkula traditions, its textual sources and practices. Bringing together scholarly acumen, practitioner’s first-hand knowledge and highly commendable inquisitiveness, this conference hopes to make some meaningful interventions into the current discourse about text and ritual practice in Tantric traditions. This virtual conference will be delivered in two parts. The first part will have senior research scholars presenting papers and will address the synergy, interplay and overlap between ritual performance and texts in Śākta traditions. This part will also explore methodological challenges and documenting problems that we face in relation to the study of ancient rituals. The second part will have speakers who are eminent tantric practitioners from Kerala.

Sign up for the online conference here.