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Perspectives on Religious Studies in India

Panel Chair: Ake Sander | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Gregory Alles

The Persistence of the Tribal: Adivasi Cultural Tropes in the Pragat Purushottam Sanstha

The paper focuses the relation between the Hindu and the tribal tradition in Gujarat, exploring how India’s indigenous peoples have negotiated their encounters with religions of caste Hindu communities. The Pragat Purushottam Sanstha is a cousin lineage to the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. The Pragat Purushottam Sanstha is limited to Gujarat, with headquarters in central Gujarat, but a focus of its activities has been among adivasi people in the Chhotaudepur District, eastern Gujarat. Here Pragat Purushottam typifies an incursion of caste Hindu beliefs and practices into adivasi communities. It replaces adivasi traditions with Viśiṣṭādvaitic teachings and Vaiṣṇava inspired practices. Adivasis join the sanstha both because its teachings and practices and because of economic advantages. Nevertheless, in religious practice, hints of adivasi traditions remain. Inspired by Greg Urban, this paper suggests that such interaction constitutes one pattern by which India’s indigenous peoples have negotiated encounters with the religions of caste Hindu communities.

Masahiko Togawa

Fakir Lalon Shah: Religious Thought and Controversy over the Religious Identity in the Postcolonial Bengal

The paper discusses the controversy over religion in connection with the birth of the folk poet and Baul Fakir Lalon Shah (? -1890), among the people both in West Bengal, India, and Bangladesh. Fakir Lalon Shah was born at a Hindu family, but was expelled from the home village and took initiation from a master of Baul, Siraj Sani. The biographical facts over his life as a religious master became a matter of controversy among the Bengali scholars since the 1940s. The paper is divided into three parts: a presentation of (1) the established view of the Lalon’s life and religion, (2) the early documentations in the1890s on the life of Lalon Shah and (3) the counter-arguments against the popular view claims that Lalon Shah was born in a Muslim family, which has been a controversial issue since the 1940s.

Marzenna Jakubczak

Knowledge and Devotion in Dharmic Tradition: The Case of Sāṃkhya-Yoga

The paper discusses the dichotomy of knowledge and devotion as the subject of the study of religion, arguing that they are both not just compatible but rather strongly interrelated and indispensible factors of the spiritual development as it is conceptualized in the non-theistic tradition of Sāṃkhya-Yoga. In the first part, the paper briefly review the understanding of ‘discriminating knowledge’ (vivekakhyāti) and ‘devotion’ (bhakti), or ‘meditation on God’ (īśvarapranidhāṇa), in the oldest preserved texts of the classical Sāṃkhya and Yoga. The second part of the paper takes a closer look at the Kapila Maṭha aśram—a contemporary phenomenon recognized as the attempt to revive the ancient ṛṣi Kapila’s tradition—being an interesting example of the conjunction of both cognitive and pious Dharmic aspirations


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