Convenors: Tristan Elby and Lucian Wong
The Contested Category of ‘Neo-Vedānta’:
Swami Vivekananda and the Multivocality of Pre-Colonial Advaita Vedāntic Traditions
James Madaio, University of Manchester
‘Neo-Vedānta’ is the standard scholarly term for the philosophical-theological teachings of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). The concretisation of labels, however, can occlude as much as it can reveal. I argue that early Indological interest in historical origins and certain modalities of Advaita Vedāntic theology underrepresents the multivocality of Advaita Vedāntic traditions. And it is precisely the understudied periods and text genres that were key sources for colonial period ‘Neo-Vedāntins’ such as Vivekananda. My paper therefore aims to complicates categories of comparison derived from mid-twentieth century Indological scholarship still evident in post-colonial approaches to the swami.
A New Stage in Comparative Theology:
‘The Mystical Appropriation’ of Swami Abhishiktananda
Ionut Moise, Wolfson College
In this presentation I inquire into the doctrinal issues deriving from Hindu-Christian forms of worship promoted by Swami Abhishiktānanda (Henry le Saux). I will try to underline the problems and the need for the development of a liturgical comparative theology, which relates to both the Christian doctrine and Hindu ritual. The relation between Hindu culture and Christian faith, their orthodoxy and orthopraxy, will be the focus of my presentation. I start by looking at Abhishiktānanda’s understanding of integrating or ‘appropriating’ the Advaita experience and the difficult issues deriving from it. Three months before his death, Abhishiktānanda, intensely faithful to sannyasa, wrote a letter to Murray Rogers (MR, 4.10.73) in which he said that his legacy would be freedom from any notion of ‘Churchianity’ including worship. Yet, Abhishiktānanda’s legacy, (the Shantivanam Ashram) which represents today a meeting point between Hindu culture and Christian faith, seems to contradict his previous statement on the transcendence of the theological ritual. After all, is Hindu-Christian worship needed or not? Second, I will attempt to look at Hindu–Christian worship per se and to explore the value and theological implications deriving from it. A Hindu–Christian liturgy supposes a new language of faith, a new spirituality, and new hermeneutics. To what extent does the Hindu worship joined to the Christian one remain orthodox? In Hindu traditions, the value of ritual is measured not according to the meaning which carries, but according to the orthopraxy of its performance. On the other hand, in Christianity worship carries a meaning, a dogmatic message. Without these clarifications, the Hindu-Christian worship falls into the syncretism, which Abhishiktānanda rejected.Finally, my paper will try to explain the development of a liturgical theology, which could, or could not lay the premises for an experiential and theological encounter between Hinduism and Christianity.