Hindu Theology: Session One – Introduction and Scriptural Authority in Hindu Traditions

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Professor Gavin Flood
Date: January 28, 2010
Time: 10:00

This series of seminars examines the idea and possibility of Hindu theology. It would survey the history and constructive theological thinking in Hindu traditions. For some scholars both terms ‘Hindu’ and ‘theology’ are impositions upon South Asia of western categories while for others we can speak about ‘Hindu theology’ in a coherent way. While the course would certainly wish to problematise the category, the main focus would be textual and hermeneutical. If a discipline is defined by its object and/or its method then we might say that theology is a discipline whose object is not a theos but rather ‘revelation.’ Such a definition does not necessarily entail intellectual commitments to theism or the truth of ‘revelation’ but rather roots the discipline in a textual history which develops different kinds of reasoning. Hindu theology would therefore focus on the interpretative and commentarial traditions in the history of Hinduism and encourage critical reasoning about them. In practical terms this would mean that the course would concentrate on classical and medieval periods, particularly the Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava theological traditions that have come down to us in Sanskrit commentaries and independent works. It is hoped that the seminars will provoke theological and philosophical reflections on the meaning of the text studied. The seminar series raises questions about the nature of theology, the nature of reasoning, and the task of theological reading in the contemporary context.

The first seminar will introduce the traditions and themes of the series which will be text historical and thematic. We will raise the question of the coherence of the category ‘Hindu theology’ and the nature and practice of theological reasoning and then begin our examination of Hindu theology through a discussion of the textual sources of Hinduism regarded as primary (śruti) and secondary revelation (smṛti). We will also consider the idea of ongoing revelation in Hinduism with particular reference to the medieval tantric traditions. The discussion will focus on two core Upaniṣads, the earliest, the Bṛhadāranyaka, and the latest, the Śvetāśvatara.

Reading: Clooney, Francis. ‘Restoring “Hindu Theology” as a Category in Indian Intellectual Discourse’ in Flood (ed.) The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism (Blackwell, 2003), pp. 447–77 Olivelle, Patrick. The Early Upanishads (OUP 2000)