Skip directly to content

Downloadable lectures

It's a kind of magic: The powers of yoga and their interpretation

Majewski Lecture
Dr Angelika Malinar
30 Oct 2006

Flying through the air, the remembrance of former existence, being insensitive to pain - all these phenomena are known as the 'power' of Yogins and are usually regarded as signs of a successful practice of Yoga. Already in the oldest texts, such as the Mahabharata (400 BCE- 400 CE) and the Yogasutra (4th-5th century, CE), they are called bala (power), siddhi (achievements) or vibhuti (manifestation of might). In academic contexts these powers were rather neglected since they have often been interpreted as an expression of 'magical thinking'. The discussion of some of these academic views will be followed by an analysis of the description and interpretation of Yogic powers in the Yogasutra and the Mahabharata. It will be shown that the authors of these texts used their own philosophical framework for explaining the 'conquest' of the objects of Yogic practice.

Related: Yoga

Theories of the text series (five lectures)

Professor Gavin Flood
17 Oct 2006

The study of texts is fundamental to Theology and Religious Studies. The aim of this series of seminars is to examine some theories of the text that have arisen within the human sciences over the last fifty years and to examine their implications for the study of religions. These developments have broadly occurred within what has become known as the 'linguistic' turn and 'postmodernism', along with reactions to it. As we now move beyond these intellectual movements ('beyond theory' to borrow a recent term by Terry Eagleton) we need to reassess the role of the text, particularly the religious text, and examine the kinds of reading practices that are available to us.

Related: Literary Theory

Baladeva vidyabhusana's Premeya-ratnavali and the issue of lineage

Graduate Seminar
Kiyokazu Okita
12 Oct 2006

This seminar will present an account of the Vaishnava philosopher Baladeva Vidyabhusana and his place in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. The paper will address the problem of lineage and raise questions about authenticity, authority, and the legitimacy of practice claimed by tradition. Kiyokazu Okita is a graduate student in the Theology Faculty at Oxford, pursuing research for his DPhil on Baladeva. He has degrees from Japan and the USA.

Related: Hindu Theology, Philosophy, Vaisnava

The Bhagavad-gita: Innovations and challenges in its translation

Wahlstrom Lecture
Professor Graham M. Schweig
30 May 2006

Many translators of the Bhagavad Gita resort to an informationally accurate prose translation that sometimes loses the poetic power and expression of the original verse. Others resort to constricted verse translation droping important and nuanced meanings of the text. Schweig is developing a way to translate Sanskrit philosophical verse that is both loyal to the meaning of the text while conveying something of the poetic power of the text in what he calls “dedicated free verse translation,” without falling prey to the weakness of either approach. Schweig will present some of the discoveries on which he is writing for his forthcoming introduction and translation of the Bhagavad Gita for Harper Collins / Harper San Francisco.

Related: Bhagavad-gita

Texts of Hindu sacred law and the construction of women's lives (as part of 'Towards equality: writing/reading gender in texts of Hinduism' workshop)

Professor Mandakranta Bose
19 May 2006

In India the treatises of law founded upon the sacred books of the Hindus had a far-reaching and defining influence on social life. As foundational documents of the Hindu way of life which codified social relations as well as personal belief as religious imperatives, these texts have exerted the deepest influence on the lives and conduct of women through history and their teachings have not yet entirely lost their force. In this lecture I shall consider some of the provisions in Hindu sacred law that moulded the lives of women, as derived from the writings of Manu and other ancient Hindu lawgivers, as well as some later writers on this basis we shall attempt to understand the intimate connection between the religious framework and the social, which has laid the basis of women's status, roles, rights and duties in Hindu society.

Related: Dharmasastra, Gender

The concept of nivrtti as translated in the lives of women in Hinduism: A survey (as part of 'Towards equality: writing/reading gender in texts of Hinduism' workshop)

Professor T.S. Rukmani
19 May 2006

Nivrtti denotes disengagement with worldly conventions. Of course it is used more in the context of samnysins/samnyasinis in connection with the pursuit of moksa (liberation). But this paper intends to release the word nivrtti from this narrow application and look at it in a wider context. The paper will examine the instances in the texts which have representations of women who go against the conventional, mother/warrior image. For instance is the brahmavadini/scholar woman like Gargi for instance, discarding by choice the role of a married woman and opting for a life of scholarly/spiritual search? Again is Savitri exerting her independence and opting to marry Satyavan in spite of her father's advice? Sulabha again could be someone who did not want to marry anyone because she was far superior to all those who wooed her. She makes the deliberate choice to become a bhiksuni. There are any number of these examples in Sanskrit texts which will form the basis of the talk.

Related: Dharmasastra, Gender

Playing around with Sakuntala: Translating Sanskrit drama for performance

Majewski Lecture
Dr William Johnson
18 May 2006

This lecture considers possible strategies for translating the conventions and aesthetic of Sanskrit drama for a modern English-peaking audience. It takes the form of a case study of Dr. Johnson's own translation of The Recognition of Sakuntala for Oxford World's Classics, and reflects on some unintended consequences.

Related: Literature

A cherished gem or a bitter fruit? Renunciation in Kavikarnapura's Caitanya-candrodaya-nataka

Graduate Seminar
Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
16 May 2006

Related: Asceticism, Vaisnava

The place of devotion and grace in Shankara's soteriology

Graduate Seminar
Jean-Marie Schmitt
8 May 2006

Related: Hindu Theology, Vedanta

Value ethics in the early Upanishads: A hermeneutic exercise

Shivdasani Seminar
Professor T.S. Rukmani
4 May 2006

The general view amongst scholars, and western scholars in particular, is that there is not sufficient attention paid to ethics in Hinduism. While no one holds that view seriously these days it does surface in discussions on Hinduism even today. This presentation tries to tackle that issue from the point of view of the early Upanishads. The main argument I develop is that moral theory and ethical behaviour is culture specific and there cannot be a uniform standard moral theory for all cultures. Moreover, it is axiomatic that no culture, particularly one that has survived thousands of years like that of the Hindus, could have survived without a moral code. Moral theory grows in consonance with the values that each society considers of ultimate importance. Keeping this as the background, this paper looks at a number of the early and middle Upanishads to build a behaviour pattern based on the twin concepts of dharma and moksa. Along the way the paper also tries to answer criticisms from scholars like Zaehner for whom a jivanmukta (one liberated while still in the body) is beyond all morality. The conclusion drawn is that there is a close connection between moral behaviour and the realization of what it means to be human.

Related: Ethics, Upanisads

Images and ideas of the goddess in the Hindu tradition

Shivdasani Seminar
Professor Mandakranta Bose
2 May 2006

Prof. Mandakranta Bose (Emeritus Professor, Centre for India and South Asia Research, University of British Columbia, Canada)

The idea of Devi, the goddess on whom all creation depends for both protection and nurture, is fundamental to the Hindu way of life. This profound philosophical idea found powerful expression in Hindu myths from early times, influencing both religion and culture in South Asia. This lecture will take note of the intensely emotional impact of the idea of the goddess figure in Hindu thought and trace how through the ages it has been reworked into the rich fabric of South Asian literature, art and the performing arts.

Related: Goddesses, Iconography

Shouting at Shiva: Religion in the films of Amitabh Bachchan

Religion and film seminars
Jessica Hines
6 Mar 2006

Related: Film

The adequacy of language: Re-evaluating Shankara's understanding of the Veda

Majewski Lecture
Dr J. S. Hirst
2 Mar 2006

If ultimate reality is beyond language, how can language comprise the only valid method of acquiring knowledge of it? And if no language whatsoever can describe ultimate reality, what guarantee could there be that what Vedic language purports to disclose is anything other than a chimera?

These are problems that lie at the heart of Shankara's Advaita Vedanta, but occur, in different guises, in a wide range of religious traditions. They are problems which raise questions about text and interpretation, about 'revelation' and the ways in which language is held to work. They require us to reflect on how we know what we know. They challenge us to define in what senses, if any, the ultimate may be said to be ineffable.
In this lecture, I shall re-examine the work of the famous Indian non-dual commentator, Shankara (c.700 A.D.), who held that ultimate reality (brahman) is beyond language and who frankly admitted that the Veda has no authority once brahman is known. I shall, however, challenge interpretations of his work which assume that language is inadequate to its task and so locate knowledge of the ineffable either in some kind of mystical experience or in the secondary or poetic use of language. I shall argue that, in Shankara's view, the language of the Upanishadic Vedic texts is precisely adequate to its task, given the epistemological and hermeneutical strategies the Veda provides for the Advaitin commentator to deploy.

Related: Veda, Vedanta

Interconnecting parallel times: Notions of time in the Caitanya tradition of Hinduism

Text, context, and interpretation seminars
Dr Angelika Malinar
2 Mar 2006

While the idea that ancient Indian cultures lack a sense of history has been questioned and even rejected in recent years, the notion of cyclical time is still regarded as the concept of time prevalent in Hinduism. The paper examines this view by dealing with Mircea Eliade‚ understanding of cyclicity and eternal return. It will be argued that time is not only in Western religions, but also in Hinduism conceived of as a complex, multi-layered phenomenon. This will be shown in a case-study of the Caitanya tradition.

Related: Vaisnava

The mediator: The priest in film

Religion and film seminars
Professor George Pattison
27 Feb 2006

Prof. George Pattison, Theology Faculty, Christchurch College, Oxford

Related: Christianity, Film

The poetics of sovereignty in early Vedic liturgies

Text, context, and interpretation seminars
Dr T. Proferes
17 Feb 2006

Recently there has been a general interest in the relation of religion to kingship in the history of Indian religions. In the context of this interest, the seminar examines the relationship between power and ritual through showing how sovereignty is expressed in Vedic liturgies.

Related: Ritual, Veda

Action movies and American ideals: The growth of Buddhism in Hollywood

Religion and film seminars
Dr Jessica Frazier
23 Jan 2006

Jessica Frazier, Divinity Faculty, Cambridge, and OCHS

Related: Buddhism, Film

The biography of temple complexes

Shivdasani Seminar
Dr Himanshu Prabha Ray
17 Nov 2005

The distribution of Buddhist and early temple sites shows that they overlap in the lower Krishna basin. But more noticeable is the clustering of early temple sites in the two interior districts of Mahboobnagar and Kurnool in Andhra where no Buddhist sites have been found, for example temple sites such as Keesaragutta and Alampur. The most ornate of the early temples located in the Eastern Deccan are those at the site of Alampur situated at the confluence of the rivers Tungabhadra and Krishna. The sites of Aihole, Badami and Patadakal formed the core area of temple construction in central Deccan. Inscriptions dating from 8th to 12th centuries from these temple sites, especially Aihole provide valuable information on the operations of the merchant guild Ayyavole and donations made by them to the temple complex. The importance of the sites of Aihole-Pattadakal-Badami in the development of multi-layered sacred space in central Deccan is undeniable and this presentation locates these temple complexes within their social domains.

Related: Archaeology, Temple

Rationalism, atheism and Hinduism in dravidian India, c.1920-90

Majewski Lecture
Dr David Washbrook
16 Nov 2005

Dr. David Washbrook (St Antony's College, University of Oxford.)

Related: Modern India, Philosophy

The shrine in early Hinduism: The changing sacred landscape

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr Himanshu Prabha Ray
8 Nov 2005

This lecture counters the linear view of religious change in South Asia, which suggests that the Hindu temple came into its own after the decline of Buddhism in the fourth-fifth centuries AD. Instead the presentation shows that the temple form was part of a common architectural vocabulary widely used from the second century BC onwards not only for the Buddhist shrine, but also for the Hindu and Jain temples and several local and regional cults. The speaker thus makes a case for plurality of religious beliefs and practices in ancient South Asia as against the prevailing view that these local and regional cults were gradually subsumed under the mantle of Sanskritisation starting from the 4th-5th centuries onwards.

Related: Ritual, Temple

Colonial knowledge, archaeological reconstructions: The discovery of the Hindu temple in 19th-20th century India

Shivdasani Seminar
Dr Himanshu Prabha Ray
1 Nov 2005

The first lecture in the series traces the beginnings of the archaeology of religion in 19th-20th century India and highlights the trends that emerged in the study of the Hindu temple as a result of this intervention. Perhaps the most salient is the disjunction between religious praxis and theory and the study of architecture divorced from its ritual and philosophical moorings. A second is the change in the character of religious sites in the subcontinent from a culturally pluralistic personality to a monotheistic religious identity as a result of early archaeological legislation in the 19th century and more specifically from the early years of the 20th century onwards. This is best achieved by contrasting the ‘discovery’ of the site of Amaravati (1798-1867) with that of Nagarjunakonda (1920-1938) – both located along the river Krishna in the Guntur district of Andhra.

Related: Archaeology, Temple

Narratives in stone: The Ramayana in early deccan

Shivdasani Seminar
Dr Himanshu Prabha Ray
27 Oct 2005

Recitation from sacred texts including the Epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata was a crucial part of ritual activities at temples further reinforced by representations of themes from literature in narrative panels on temple walls. The most sustained visual narrative based on the Valmiki Ramayana dates from 5th to 8th centuries and is to be found on the Visnu temple at Deogarh dated to 425 AD, the contemporary temple at Nachna, as well as in the Deccan on the Durga, Papanatha and Virupaksa temples at Aihole – Pattadakal and at the Kailasa temple at Ellora. The Ramayana travelled to Southeast Asia towards the end of the first millennium AD, but the selection of themes and episodes to be depicted on monuments varied from place to place. This presentation analyses the Ramayana panels with a view to understanding the religious and cultural milieu of these shrines.

Related: Archaeology, Ramayana, Temple

Hinduism I series: Themes and textual sources (eight lectures)

Professor Gavin Flood
20 Oct 2005
This series of eigth lectures offers a thematic and historical introduction to Hinduism for students of theology and religious studies. Focussing on the brahmanical tradition we will explore the textual sources, categories, practices and social institutions that formed that tradition. Primary texts in translation will provide the basis for reflection on both philosophical and social issues such as dharma, renunciation, caste, and concepts of deity. Not only presenting an account of the texts and traditions, the course will raise theological and cultural questions about the relation between reason and practice, person and world, and society and gender. The last two lectures will examine contemporary traditions in Kerala and we will conclude with a consideration of Hinduism and modernity.
Lecture Schedule
  • Introduction: What is Hinduism?
  • The Vedas and Vedic traditions.
  • The Upanishads: the Chandogya and Svetashvatara
  • Dharma, society and gender
  • Theistic Traditions 1
  • Theistic Traditions 2
  • Local Traditions: Kerala
  • Hinduism and Modernity

Related: General

Philosophy's linguistic turn

Shivdasani Lecture
Professor Ashok Aklujkar
12 May 2005

Related: Buddhism, Grammarians, Philosophy

Yoga and vyaakarana

Shivdasani Seminar
Professor Ashok Aklujkar
12 May 2005

Related: Grammarians, Philosophy, Yoga