The Śākta Traditions Research Programme
Research in the Śaiva traditions have been quite extensively developed in recent years. Important work has been done on the Skanda Purāṇa, the Pāśupatas, the Śaiva Siddhānta, the non-dualistic Śaiva traditions, and their philosophical articulation in the Pratyabhijñā. But less work has been done on what might be called Śākta traditions, those traditions, tantric and non-tantric, focused on an independent Goddess (Devī) or on Śiva’s power (Śakti). Research has been done on the Kubjikā tradition and on Śākta oriented Śaiva traditions but a sustained research programme that inquires into the history, doctrine and practices of what might be called ‘Śāktism’ is a desideratum.
The aim of this research programme is therefore to address fundamental questions such as the clarification of the distinction between Śaiva and Śākta traditions, questions about Śākta textual lineages and their interrelationship, the clarification of doctrines and practices of the different schools, questions about the relationship between the tantric and the purāṇic Goddess traditions, questions about the relationship between local Goddess traditions (such as the Teyyams in Kerala) and the pan-South Asian traditions, raising questions about the relationship between esoteric practices and the exoteric temple cults, asking what the delimitation of Śākta doctrine is, and what developments there are in contemporary Śākta worship.
The programme will address these questions from a number of perspectives, i.e. a text-historical or philological perspective (this will be the main one as the texts of the tradition and its text- historical boundaries are hardly established), an anthropological perspective on contemporary practice, a doctrinal or theological perspective on theological reflection based on the textual material that has been established to date, an art-historical angle, as well as a perspective of the study of religion.
Programme outputs are conferences, seminars, symposia and exhibitions as well as individual research projects and publications produced by researchers of the programme (articles, book chapters, monographic studies, critical editions and translations) and building up an international research network. A local office facilitating fieldwork, manuscript studies and preservation has been established in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The first international Śākta Traditions conference took place in Oxford (Somerville College) on 10-11 September 2011 and was highly successful with over fifty participants and twelve specialist scholars. Keynote speaker was Professor Alexis Sanderson, Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at All Souls College, Oxford, by many considered the world’s foremost scholar on Sanskrit, Indology, and the Tantric traditions. The conference was hosted by Professor Gavin Flood, Academic Director of OCHS and Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion at the Theology Faculty, University of Oxford. Conference manager was Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen, at that time a PhD fellow at Aarhus University and Research Fellow at the OCHS. The conference was kindly sponsored by the Nehru Centre, London.
Click here for more information on the 2011 conference
The next international Śākta conference is planned to take place in Oxford in 2020. The conference will be interdisciplinary with an emphasis on the perspective of Comparative Religion and Hindu Studies. One of its important aspects will be to address some of the more general theoretical and methodological problems and challenges we face in relation to the study of South Asian religious traditions, taking Śākta traditions as an example par excellence. Keynote speaker will be Professor Gavin Flood.