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Forthcoming lectures

Buddhist Sanskrit: Session two

Dr. Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Monday, 1 May 2017 -
5:00pm to 6:00pm
OCHS Library

The course provides an introduction to Elementary Sanskrit with a focus on classical Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit (not BHS). We will read the Heart Sūtra (Prajñāpāramitāhṛdayasūtra) in its long version as well as passages from other texts (e.g. by Nāgārjuna).

Elementary Sanskrit: Session two

Dr. Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Wednesday, 3 May 2017 -
10:00am to 11:00am
OCHS Library

The course provides an introduction to Sanskrit. The class is designed to introduce students to the reading of Sanskrit texts. Students are expected to know the basics of Sanskrit grammar, syntax and vocabulary. This term we will read passages from the Chāndogya-upaniṣad and/or Vetālapañcaviṃśati.

‘The lotus in the mire’: the Indian reception of Tājika astrology

Dr. Martin Gansten
Wednesday, 3 May 2017 -
3:00pm to 4:00pm
OCHS Library

Tājika is the designation of the Sanskritized Perso-Arabic astrology that arose as an independent school following the second wave of astrological transmission into India in the early centuries of the second millennium CE. It is thus the form of Indian astrology most closely resembling western medieval and Renaissance astrology, which similarly rests on Arabic foundations. Although ultimately derived from the same Greek origins as classical Indian astrology, Tājika comprises many technical elements not included in the first wave of transmission about a millennium earlier. While the earliest known Tājika works in Sanskrit appear to have been composed by authors who were either Jains or members of the non-Brahmin Prāgvāṭa (Porwad) community encompassing both Jains and Hindus, the most influential of these authors was reinvented as a Brahmin by later Tājika tradition. Not all Brahmins were accepting of the foreign science, however, and many Tājika authors felt the need to defend their study of it by arguments that range from the mythological to the pragmatic. In today’s nationalist climate, where apologetic strategies are once more called for, Tājika is often subsumed under the modern paradigm of ‘Vedic astrology’, its extra-Indian origins largely forgotten, ignored, or even denied.

Dr. Martin Gansten is a Sanskritist and a historian of religion specializing in astrological and divinatory traditions. He received his doctorate from Lund University, Sweden, where he has taught since 1998 and is now docent.

Constructing a theological basis for social engagement during the rule of Jai Singh II in Early Modern North India

Early Modern Hindu Theologies Seminars
Sunit Patel
Thursday, 4 May 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

While the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition does not go as far as to reject the practice of ritual (karma) overtly, its early teachers generally forewarn bhakti practitioners of engagement in karma. Consequently, the place of karma, and hence of social responsibilities (varṇāśrama-dharma), in the life of a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava is rarely directly discussed in the early phase of the tradition. However, in the early 18th century a wave of texts appear attempting to devise a bridge between bhakti and karma. These texts appear to have been produced as the tradition enters into a dialogue with Jai Singh II (1688-1743) of the Kachvaha dynasty. Jai Singh was concerned that the various schools active in his kingdom endorsed social engagement, in relation to varṇāśrama and karma. In this presentation, I will examine the Karma-vivṛti, a manuscript held in the library of the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum in Jaipur. The text is an exposition on karma and its its relation to bhakti, written by the chief advisor to Jai Singh, Kṛṣṇadeva Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācarya, a prominent Gauḍīya theologian in Jaipur. Kṛṣṇadeva goes to great lengths to endorse karma and thus social engagement, drawing extensively upon the earliest teachers of the tradition, in an attempt to develop a theological and scriptural argument for the compatibility of karma and bhakti.

Sunit Patel is currently pursuing a DPhil in Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford. His reseach interests include the intersection between religious movements and political power, Indian intellectual history, and the early modern world.

Fieldwork, Durkheim, and the Study of Religious Community

Debating Religion: Key Scholars in discussion on the Study of Religions
Prof Sondra Hausner
Thursday, 4 May 2017 -
4:00pm to 5:00pm
OCHS Library

This term the Debating Religion series continues its intimate filmed interviews with key scholars speaking on their own insights into the debates that shape Religious Studies.

Elementary Sanskrit: Session two

Dr. Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Friday, 5 May 2017 -
10:00am to 12:00pm
OCHS Library

The course provides an introduction to Sanskrit. The class is designed to introduce students to the reading of Sanskrit texts. Students are expected to know the basics of Sanskrit grammar, syntax and vocabulary. This term we will read passages from the Chāndogya-upaniṣad and/or Vetālapañcaviṃśati.

Buddhist Sanskrit: Session three

Dr. Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Monday, 8 May 2017 -
5:00pm to 6:00pm
OCHS Library

The course provides an introduction to Elementary Sanskrit with a focus on classical Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit (not BHS). We will read the Heart Sūtra (Prajñāpāramitāhṛdayasūtra) in its long version as well as passages from other texts (e.g. by Nāgārjuna).

Elementary Sanskrit: Session three

Dr. Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Wednesday, 10 May 2017 -
10:00am to 11:00am
OCHS Library

The course provides an introduction to Sanskrit. The class is designed to introduce students to the reading of Sanskrit texts. Students are expected to know the basics of Sanskrit grammar, syntax and vocabulary. This term we will read passages from the Chāndogya-upaniṣad and/or Vetālapañcaviṃśati.

Rādhā Tantra and the agonies and ecstasies of studying obscure texts

Lectures of the J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellow
Dr. Måns Broo
Thursday, 11 May 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

The Rādhā Tantra (RT), also known as Vāsudevarahasya (Vāsudeva’s secret), is a fairly extensive, anonymous Tantric work dealing with the story of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Contrary to what the name might indicate, the RT is not a Vaiṣṇava text; rather, it is a Śākta text giving a Śākta reinterpretation of a Vaiṣṇava story. The RT is by all standards a late Tantra, written in poor Sanskrit, seldom quoted by Tantric authorities and little studied today. Plainly said, this is not an important text.

Nevertheless, in this talk, I will argue for the importance of studying such obscure texts. This I will do by taking a close look at the historical context of the RT, its fascinating manuscript history, its intertextualities and doctrines, all of which paint a vivid picture of the meeting of Śāktism and Vaiṣṇavism in 17th century Bengal. Who wrote this text, and why? Considering such questions, I argue, will not only help us understand this particular text, but also give us a larger picture of the history of religion in Bengal in general.  

Dr. Måns Broo is a university researcher in comparative religion at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. His main research interests include yoga – both its history and contemporary forms – and the intersections between Vaiṣṇavism and Tantrism in pre-modern Bengal. He is at present engaged in compiling a critical edition and translation of the mediaeval Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ritual compilation Haribhaktivilāsa

Expanding Religion: Studying Migration and Diaspora

Debating Religion: Key Scholars in discussion on the Study of Religions
Prof John Hinnells
Thursday, 11 May 2017 -
4:00pm to 5:00pm
OCHS Library

This term the Debating Religion series continues its intimate filmed interviews with key scholars speaking on their own insights into the debates that shape Religious Studies.

Elementary Sanskrit: Session three

Dr. Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Friday, 12 May 2017 -
10:00am to 12:00pm
OCHS Library

The course provides an introduction to Sanskrit. The class is designed to introduce students to the reading of Sanskrit texts. Students are expected to know the basics of Sanskrit grammar, syntax and vocabulary. This term we will read passages from the Chāndogya-upaniṣad and/or Vetālapañcaviṃśati.

Buddhist Sanskrit: Session four

Dr. Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Monday, 15 May 2017 -
5:00pm to 6:00pm
OCHS Library

The course provides an introduction to Elementary Sanskrit with a focus on classical Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit (not BHS). We will read the Heart Sūtra (Prajñāpāramitāhṛdayasūtra) in its long version as well as passages from other texts (e.g. by Nāgārjuna).

Elementary Sanskrit: Session four

Dr. Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Wednesday, 17 May 2017 -
10:00am to 11:00am
OCHS Library

The course provides an introduction to Sanskrit. The class is designed to introduce students to the reading of Sanskrit texts. Students are expected to know the basics of Sanskrit grammar, syntax and vocabulary. This term we will read passages from the Chāndogya-upaniṣad and/or Vetālapañcaviṃśati.

Elementary Sanskrit: Session four

Dr. Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Friday, 19 May 2017 -
10:00am to 12:00pm
OCHS Library

The course provides an introduction to Sanskrit. The class is designed to introduce students to the reading of Sanskrit texts. Students are expected to know the basics of Sanskrit grammar, syntax and vocabulary. This term we will read passages from the Chāndogya-upaniṣad and/or Vetālapañcaviṃśati.

The Temple Tradition in Three Styles of Classical Indian Dance: Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak

Dr Anne-Marie Gaston
Wednesday, 24 May 2017 -
2:30pm to 3:30pm
OCHS Library

This illustrated paper/lecture demonstration, will examine the changing importance of religious expression in three classical Indian dances (Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak), from their traditional (up to 1947), to their modern context.

Bharatanatyam originated in Tamil Nadu state. It was the hereditary profession of devadasis, women who danced in temples as part of religious ritual and on secular occasions, where they also played an important secular role as professional dancers and singers. Devadasis were taught by hereditary male teachers. In the 1930s, these teachers began to teach the dance, with some modifications, to non-hereditary dancers, both women and men, who were instrumental in creating the modern stage version of Bharatanatyam. Early stage presentations, although including much devotional repertoire, generally eschewed religious trappings. Recently this has changed, with increasing emphasis on temple associations.

While the Bharatanatyam of today evolved from a preexisting classical style, Odissi, from Orissa State, was created as a classical dance style in the 1960s and differed from Bharatanatyam in many ways. Unlike Bharatanatyam, it did not constitute a unified dance style but was assembled out of pre-existing elements of which the most important was the gotipua tradition, a dance-drama style performed by prepubescent boys. Many of the chief architects of Odissi had been gotipuas and spent their youth dancing, studying percussion and performing in theatres and villages. Unlike the devadasi tradition, where some dances were performed as part of temple ritual, gotipua performances took place mainly in secular venues, except for certain very sporadic specific events associate with the Jagannatha temple in Puri. While their repertoire centered on Hindu mythology, especially Krishna, the gotipuas were essentially itinerant entertainers. From the late 1950s, girls and women started to perform the Odissi of the gotipuas which induced a group of teachers to formalize the style, borrowing their format from Bharatanatyam. From the 1980s, many men also began to perform Odissi. In recent years there has been an attempt to trace Odissi’s roots to a pre-existing temple tradition. However, historical records for the temple tradition of female dancers/musicians (maharis), dedicated to Lord Jagannatha in Puri, lacks clear documentation. While their dance was largely ignored in the 1960s, during the creation of Odissi, there has been a recent trend by a few high caste women towards recreating their vision of the mahari’s dances which emphasizes the religious component. A similar tendency is apparent among Kathak adherents. All accounts ascribe the origin of Kathak to Hindu temples and princely courts, but the temple connection remains tenuous and most dancers of the post-independence period studied within traditions associated with the Muslim court of Wazir Ali Shah in Lucknow (Oudh) and the courts of some of the Hindu Rajas of Rajasthan, especially Jaipur. Despite this, modern practitioners generally claim that the dance originated as a religious presentation, whatever the immediate antecedents may have been. As in the other dance styles, records indicate that all of the Kathak teachers were men. Historical records, with very few exceptions, list only men as performers, despite the fact that there was an important parallel tradition of women dancers and singers in the courts and wealthy houses.

I will discuss the origins for each of the three dance styles, their presentation in the early post-independence period and subsequent trends towards increasing religiosity in repertoire and presentation.

Anne-Marie Gaston (D.Phil. Oxon, M. Litt. Oxon) (Anjali) is a scholar and internationally recognized performer of several styles of South Asian classical dance: Bharata Natyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Mayurbanj and Seraikella Chhau . All of her dance training has been in India, over fifty years, with some of the greatest teachers. Her dance repertoire includes both traditional repertoire and innovative dance/theatre performances which seamlessly blend movement, original musical scores, text, video and images on a variety of themes: Environment Yoga, Buddhist, Greek and Mesopotamian myths. For these mixed media productions, which include professional quality images and video, she collaborates with composers, musicians, mask makers, dancers and actors. As part of the 500 years of Shakespeare’s birth celebrations, in collaboration with her long time Kathakali Guru, Sadanand Balakrishnan, she created Lady Macbeth, a mixed-media presentation, set in Rajasthan, which includes an original musical score, video and images. She has performed and lectured in theatres, art galleries and museums across Canada, USA, Netherlands, Greece and in Paris.

She has published three books: Bharata Natyam from Temple to Theatre (Manohar), Siva in Dance Myth and Iconography (Oxford University Press), Krishna=s Musicians: music and music-making in the temples of Nathdvara Rajasthan (Manohar). Another book, Bharatanatyam Evolves, will appear shortly. She contributed the chapter on ‘Embodied Movement’ for the Oxford Handbook of Sacred Arts, as well as numerous articles for academic journals. She is a Research Associate with InterCulture, University of Ottawa, Canada. In 2016 she was a member of their delegation to Chengdu, China for the International Conference on Matralineality.

She is the artistic Director of Cultural Horizons www.culturalhorizons.ca.

Caitanya and the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana

Early Modern Hindu Theologies Seminars
Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
Thursday, 25 May 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

The writings of the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana have, since the early seventeenth century, been the foundation for all Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology, and it is hard to find in the tradition any figure that is invested with greater authority than these authors. Some of the best scholars of the Gauḍīya tradition, such as Sushil Kumar De, Ramakanta Chakravarti, and Hitesranjan Sanyal, have argued that unlike the Vaiṣṇavas of Bengal, who composed several hagiographies of Caitanya, the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana cared little for Caitanya, at least theologically. Though the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana offer homage to Caitanya in most of their writings, their theology centres on Kṛṣṇa not Caitanya, and it is not until the early seventeenth century, when their student Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja composed the Caitanya-caritāmṛta and used their ideas to develop a comprehensive theology of Caitanya's life, that the Bengali tradition of Caitanya devotion was synthesised with the Kṛṣṇa theology of Vṛndāvana.

This lecture aims to challenge this view. First I will attempt to demonstrate that these authors did indeed have a theology of Caitanya, and will examine how Caitanya figures into their theology of devotion to Kṛṣṇa. In the light of this, I will then explore the reasons why the Gosvāmīs sometimes chose not to emphasise Caitanya's divinity in their writings. Drawing on their own works as well as other early historical sources, I will argue that they envisioned a non-sectarian Vaiṣṇava culture in Vṛndāvana, that included the various other Vaiṣṇava groups active in the region at the time.

Rembert Lutjeharms (DPhil, Oxford 2010) is the Librarian at the OCHS and a Tutor in Hinduism at the Faculty of Theology and Religion.

What does it mean to be a playful agent? The Kashmiri Śaiva reformulation of Naṭarāja

Dr Aleksandra Wenta
Monday, 5 June 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

This lecture focuses on the Kashmiri Śaiva reformulation of Naṭarāja—Śiva as the Dancer—found in the work of Maheśvarānanda (12‐13th century) who lived in Chidambaram during the rule of the Cōḻa kings. Maheśvarānanda’s concept of the Dancer has a structural complexity that leads him to an alternative formulation of the problem of the agency of consciousness. Moreover, this implicit complexity is additionally complicated by the existence of the all-encompassing metaphysical axiom of play that is presupposed in the Dancer’s ontology. Play offers a site to performative reality that constantly watches the character of the Dancer’s own transformation. This is the play of bondage and liberation understood as the self‐given laws of the actor’s dance. For Maheśvarānanda, play suggests the theatricalization of reality in which the identity of the Dancer is ascertained by his capability of assuming all the roles. Thus, the Dancer is the Actor displaying the cosmic drama that presupposes the capacity to enact or perform diversity. Maheśvarānanda begins his exposition of the play of bondage and liberation with a depiction of the Dancer who constitutes the essential nature of both Śiva and the individual self (puruṣa). Maheśvarānanda advocates the view that Śiva/puruṣa is a Dancer, a free agent because of his agency to constantly perform the Five Acts. This lecture will concentrates on five thematic sections: 1) What does it means to be a playful agent? 2) The play of bondage and liberation. 3) The dance of Śiva, the dance of puruṣa: Discovering the autonomous agency of the Five Acts. 4) Maheśvarānanda’s critique of Sāṃkhya’s unmoved mover. 5) Śiva the magician and the deception of his Māyā.

Aleksandra Wenta is currently pursuing her second DPhil in Oriental Studies at The Queen's College, University of Oxford. She is also assistant professor in the School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religions at Nālandā University, India. She has co-edited [with Purushottama Bilimoria] Emotions in Indian Thought-Systems, Routledge (New Delhi, London, New York) and published several peer-reviewed articles. Aleksandra is also a researcher at FIND (India-Europe Foundation for New Dialogues), Italy.

Haribhaktivilāsa as the meeting of Vedic, Tantric and Puranic ritualism

Lectures of the J.P. And Beena Khaitan Visiting Fellow
Dr. Måns Broo
Thursday, 8 June 2017 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
OCHS Library

The Haribhaktivilāsa (HBV) is an extensive Sanskrit ritual compendium written around 1534 by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmin, a grand-disciple of the celebrated Bengali mystic and reformer Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya (1486–1533), the founder of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava saṃpradāya. Though being one of the oldest of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava texts, the HBV has received little academic study so far. No doubt this has been partly because scholars of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism have largely focused on the saṃpradāya's theology, especially in relation to the concept of rasa, but also because so little of this text is original. More than 90% of its verses are cited from other texts.

In this talk, based on my present text-critical work with this book, I will try to shed light on some of its vexing questions, such as its authorship, primary and secondary sources, purpose, Tantric influences and neglect or downplaying of practices thought typical for Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Further, by looking at its manuscript history, I will offer some tentative thoughts on the spread of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava texts in the early 17th century.   

Dr. Måns Broo is a university researcher in comparative religion at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. His main research interests include yoga – both its history and contemporary forms – and the intersections between Vaiṣṇavism and Tantrism in pre-modern Bengal. He is at present engaged in compiling a critical edition and translation of the mediaeval Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ritual compilation Haribhaktivilāsa