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Lectures by Convenors: Tristan Elby and Lucian Wong

Graduate Seminars (Session One)

31 Jan 2014

Mortality and Immortality in the KaṭhopaniṣadThabiso Bustraan, Wolfson College, OxfordMy paper on the Katha Upanishad is a representation of philosophical discourse in which what can be called the four main/dominant ways of conceiving and reaching immortality are compared and contrasted to each other. Being one of the Upanishads it is hardly surprising that moksa ultimately triumphs over the rest yet still the seeming fairness in which they are compared and the reasons for leaving the others by the wayside are interesting regardless.What is especially interesting is that while the first three of 'putras', 'ayus' and 'svarga' do follow each other in a logical progression and are interwoven the fourth option of moksa is a total break with all of these and turns them all on their head (which is actually a literal quote in the upanishad).Apart from this I have also given some thought to the narrative style in which the text is written, something which could provide some speculative insights into the use and purpose of the text in ancient, daily life interactions involving flesh-and-blood human beings.The Buddhist self as it appears in the Mahāyāna Mahābherī SūtraChris Jones, Wolfson College, OxfordMy doctoral research concerns the Indian Buddhist tathāgatagarbha ('Buddha embryo') literature, from around the C3rd-5th, which presents sentient beings in saṃsāra as possessing an essential nature which is identical to that of a Buddha (the so-called buddha-dhātu). In the course of affirming this nature, several texts praising the tathāgatagarbha doctrine choose to designate it as ātman, i.e. a self, in apparent opposition to the well-attested doctrine of anātman that informs the vast majority of Buddhist sources.One such tathāgatagarbha text is the Mahābherī ('great drum') Sūtra, which appears to have had little influence on later Buddhist literature, and has received very little scholarly attention. The text is very clear in affirming the existence of something that could be called a self, and presents a unique account of why such an entity is required in order not only for beings to attain awakening, but also, it seems, to make sense of transmigration in saṃsāra.No Sanskrit text survives, and as such I am working on Chinese and Tibetan translations of the sūtra, and am concerned mostly with what we can learn of the Indian recensions of the text from these. In my presentation I shall discuss key passages of the text concerned with its account of the self (with reference to its place in the wider tathāgatagarbha corpus), and how this text holds its doctrine is to be reconciled with other expressions of the dharma.


Graduate Seminars (Session Two)

14 Feb 2014

Hinduism in Himachal PradeshShriya Gautam, M.St. in Archaeology, OxfordHinduism is the main religion of Indian Subcontinent that combines the philosophies of various ancient religions with the various tenets prescribed in the four Vedas and other scared texts like Upnishads, Epics and the Puranas. In the larger part of the subcontinent, the religion has evolved from the historic pagan religion that worshipped various forces nature to a polytheistic religion with over 370 million gods and goddesses out of which Vishnu, the God of Preservation; Shiva, the God of Death and Devi, the Mother Goddess remain prominent. In Himachal Pradesh, however, a lot of local traditions combine with mainstream Hinduism to form a composite religion which worships Vedic Gods along with Puranic Gods. This paper attempts to examine the nature of Hinduism in Himachal Pradesh and study how it differs from Hinduism in the rest of subcontinent.Arthaśāstric Fortifications in Early Historic to Early Medieval South AsiaKen Ishikawa, Wolfson College, OxfordThe second urbanization of South Asia during the Early Historic period saw the emergence and development of fortified settlements predominantly concentrated in the Gangetic valley. F. R. Allchin (1995) approached the morphology of Early Historic fortifications with the aid of the normative text called the Arthaśāstra, that instructs the construction of fortifications. This paper follows his methodology by attesting further textual parallels, but also questions his unconditional acceptance of the Arthaśāstra as an ‘Early Historic’ text. Accordingly, both Early Historic fortifications with different morphological features and applicable texts are put into chronological and geographical contexts. My archaeological/literary investigation gives a new insight into the pre-Mauryan origin of the norms of fortification transmitted in the Arthaśāstra, despite the disputed date of its compilation ranging between Mauryan and Gupta periods. This tells us that the science of fortification in the Arthaśāstra was rather documentary than innovative. I further link Early Historic fortifications with the Solanki fortifications of Early Medieval Gujarat, that have been heavily influenced by the Arthaśāstra.


Graduate Seminars (Session Three)

14 Mar 2014

Deconstructing Taxonomies: How Can We Study ‘Modern Hinduism’?Anthony King, Blackfriars, University of OxfordThe category ‘Modern Hinduism’ is often assumed to be a comprehensive and all-encompassing taxonomy, one that carefully delineates all the modern manifestations of the pre-existing religions of India. However it is far from being an innocent signifier. It is the site of significant contestation between post-colonial and Enlightenment claims to truth and knowledge. Scholars are divided on the issue of the ‘construction’ of Hinduism, but what is certain is that the study of Hinduism is in a crisis.How can we address the issue of the validity of the taxonomy ‘Modern Hinduism’? Is there a way to give a voice in the debate to those who perhaps hold the answer – ‘Modern Hindus’ themselves? This paper will address these issues and possible methodologies of such an approach.The idea of ahamkara in Samkhya and YogaRamesh Pattni, Blackfriars, OxfordCentral to the Samkhya and Yoga perspectives is the ego and its central role in the continuation of subjectivity through grasping and ownership of experience. We look at this notion of the subject in relation to the underlying metaphysics of the systems of thought. 


Graduate Seminars in Indic Religion: Session Two

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religions
16 May 2014

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 AbhishiktanandaIonut Moise, Wolfson CollegeIn 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.