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Perspectives on Religious Studies in India

25-108 | Tuesday, 9 a.m. | HS 3
Panel Chair: Åke Sander

The late Joseph O’Connell, whose work will be commemorated in this panel, recognized the striking disparity between the prominence of religious factors and the rarity of scientific study of the phenomena in South Asia. The panel will discuss central concepts for the academic study of religion in India including secularism, transcendence, knowledge, devotion, and caste. Religious traditions involve claims about the world and the place and role of human beings within it: about God(s) or transcendent reality, about the nature of the self and its relation to the divine or ultimate reality, about the possibility of an afterlife, appropriate action and behaviour in light of these facts. If the academic study of religion should be impartial and in principle comparative, as O’ Connell suggested, then studying central concepts and truth-claims of religious traditions is a legitimate component of it, as well as the critical evaluations of such terms and claims.

Åke Sander, Clemens Cavallin

Changes of the views on religion in higher education in India

This paper will present preliminary results from an interview study performed at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in 2014 which focuses on the views of university teachers and researchers on the place, role, and function of teaching and research on religion at BHU. The study is part of a comparative project in which a similar study will be performed in 2015 at Pondicherry University. Main research questions are: What is, according to faculty, the situation of religion at Indian universities today, both as an object of study (religious studies) and as a phenomenon on campus? Do they think the place and role of religion have been changing over the years? What is their evaluation of the present situation and the changes? What is their view of the ideal situation of the place and role for religion and the study of religion?

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 reviews 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.

Gregory D. 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.

Ibrahim Khan

Tagore and the Academic Study of Religion

Tagore understood a university to be a place of working together in the common pursuit of truth. He envisioned its scope to lessen dependence on exported European education and thereby to address a seeming feeling of discontent emerging in modern India with borrowing from foreign educational plans. He held also to a view of truth as informing and inspiring so as to make alive that which is human within us. This paper inquires whether Tagore’s vision of an eastern university education would accommodate the academic study of religion as canvassed by the modern West. A response may lead to a better understanding about comparative religion in an Indian context as an academic approach in the study of religion, especially at Visva-Bharati University, an institution that Tagore nurtured. Resources for thinking through the question include Tagore, Creative Unity, and Towards a Universal Man, and the comparative religion curriculum at Visva-Bharati.

Kana Tomizawa (Kitazawa)

The Development of the Modern Concept of “Spirituality” in India: The Usage of the Term by Vivekanada and his Contemporaries

In previous publications I have explored the use of the concept of “spirituality” in the discourse on India, especially among British Orientalists. In this paper I will examine more precisely the genealogy of “spirituality.” In particular, I will discuss the development of the concept by various Indians in the late nineteenth century, focusing especially upon Vivekananda and members of his circle. My argument is that Vivekananda and his mentor, Ramakrishna, played a decisive role in the development of a discourse about Indian spirituality as a counter to a hegemonic Western materialistic rationality. My aim is to show that, in this case, at least, a common if stereotypical image of India was not simply a product of the Romantic British Orientalist imagination, but that a certain class of Indians themselves, namely, the Bengali bhadrlok, also contributed significantly to the construction of this image.