Ritual, Text and Body Within the Study of South Asian Religion

Monday, 22nd January 2018 – Aarhus-OCHS Workshop – Oxford
OCHS Library and Campion Hall

“Ideas do not produce ritual; rather, ritual itself produces and shapes ideas, or even experience and emotions.”
– Walter Burkert, 1972.

The purpose of this workshop is to discuss new research and insights into the relationship, overlap and interplay between ritual performance, the uses of texts and body, within South Asian religions in historical and contemporary time, in South Asia and beyond (e.g. in diaspora). In particular, we would like to focus on the conferred authority or ’meaning providers’ given to the text compared to the ritual performance in a given religious community and in what way the body (embodiment, corporality) plays in this relation. In other word’s we will like to discuss the triple interrelationship between text-ritual-body both on an ontological and a performative level. Focus can be on elite and laypeople, local and pan South Asian traditions, esoteric practices and the exoteric temple cults, between generations, between gender, between keeping up tradition and reinventing tradition, between the institutional and the individual level, and between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Thus, we are interested in discussing new research with the possibility of reframing the relationship between text and ritual taking the body into account as well. Therefore we welcome papers having theoretical, methodological as well as empirically grounded considerations. Every contributor will have between 20-30 minutes for his or her presentation followed by a discussion.

Venue: Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

10.00-10.15 Welcome by Assoc. Prof. Marianne Fibiger and Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
10.15-10.45 Assoc. Prof. Marianne Fibiger (Aarhus)
10.45-11.00 Tea and biscuits
11.00-11.30 Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen (Oxford)
11.30-12.00 Dr Jessica Frazier (Oxford)
12.00-12.30 PhD Candidate Jacob Hartvig Sandager Hansen (Aarhus)

Lunch: Balliol College

13.00-14.00 Sanskrit Lunch
14.00-15.30 Time on your own

Venue: Campion Hall

15.30-15.45 Campion Hall small tour with Professor Gavin Flood
15.45-16.15 Professor Gavin Flood (Oxford and Singapore)
16.15-16.45 Professor Knut Jacobsen (Bergen)
16.45-17.00 Tea and biscuits
17.00-17.30 Discussion and concluding remarks

19.30 Dinner


The triangular relationship between text, ritual and body

Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger

“Ideas do not produce ritual; rather, ritual itself produces and shapes ideas, or even experience and emotions.” (Walter Burkert, 1972).

In the call for our seminar we quoted Walter Burkert, who as some of his predecessors (Robertson Smith, Durkheim etc.) wanted us to focus on the ritual and not the text as the primary bearer or provider of meaning. This is an important statement not least when dealing with lay-oriented religion but also when discussing definitions on South Asian – or not Abrahamic based – religions. In my reading or interpretation of Walter Burkert statement he also touches upon a third and in my mind underestimated element within the study of religion namely the body as the fundament for the subjective experience but also as memory provider for the individual participator.
My introducing paper will try to outline not only why I think we to a wider extent have to include the body in the equation, but without totally give in to Merleau-Ponty phenomenology.

Linking the yogic individual with the larger tradition: Text, ritual, imaginaire and body amongst contemporary Śākta ascetics in Nepal

Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen

The paper will take a further look at how the indvidual yogi is linked with the larger tradition by re- actualizing textual knowledge through practice, i.e. embodied memory, which participates in an overarching imaginaire. In a previous paper on yoga, tantra and asceticism in medieval India Silje Lyngar Einarsen and I showed how this linking worked in relation to a distinctive Śākta anthropology (e.g. the yogic technique of flooding the body with nectar, amṛtaplavana) based on close readings of three medieval tantric texts, the Netratantra, the Kubjikāmatatantra and the Haṭhapradīpikā. I will expand on these ideas in a contemporary perspective by exploring the uses of texts, ritual and body in relation to the Śākta imaginaire, drawing on my fieldwork amongst present-day Nāth Yogīs and Śākta Aghorīs in Nepal.

Contra Burkert: Ideas as Rituals in the Intellectual Habitus

Jessica Frazier

The shift toward a hermeneutics of Praxis and Body in the study of India has facilitated many insights, and an essential counter-balancing of previous textual bias in Indology… yet it can threaten it’s own silencing of the rituals of the life of the mind.
Drawing on classical India’s vision of ideas as a kind of ritual apparatus for transformation of the Self- that is, a praxis that takes place in the ‘intellectual body’, this paper will try to bridge the intellectual-enacted, mind-body, idea-ritual divides. Even in today’s pandit-led classes, popular theological metaphors, and guru-led theological reflection, we may, perhaps, glimpse the Upanisadic idea that we are concretely transformed through the Intellectual life’s (literally) mind-expanding ideas.

Through the Eyes of Dharma – Text, Ritual, and Body in the Kaleidoscope of Ananda Sangha’s Perception of Sanatana Dharma

Jacob Hartvig Sandager Hansen

As yoga travels across different geographic and social matrixes, it takes many new ingenious forms and shapes. Different places, cultures, times, settings, and users call forth different prisms of interpretation, resulting in yoga, understood as a religious system, often being re-contextualized in order to be relevant in a new cultural context.
This paper is an attempt to grab hold of one these re-contextualizations. In this paper, I examine how members of the American Yoga-organization Ananda Sangha interpret the concept of Sanatana Dharma, and in turn how these adaptations affect members’ understanding of ‘text’, ‘ritual’, and ‘body’. Addressing this question, there are two avenues of investigation that I want to highlight. The first avenue focuses on how Santana Dharma, understood as a theological construct, is re- contextualized in order to conform to a modern American individualistic consumerist society. This avenue relates to my second path of investigation – the focus here being on investigating how the American interpretation of Sanatana Dharma in Ananda Sangha affects their members’ perception of ritual performance, textual sources, and their body, and not least how the relationship between ritual, text, and body changes as a result of their re-imagination of the ‘eternal truth.’ Understanding how the perception of text, ritual, and body transformation is critical aspect when examining how yoga transforms as it moves across the globe, and, in turn, explain why yoga takes so many shapes as it travels in time and space.

Ritual, Text and Body in a Contemporary Sāṃkhyayoga Tradition

Knut A. Jacobsen

The paper analyzes yogic textual and ritual practices in a contemporary Bengali Sāṃkhyayoga tradition. Sāṃkhyayoga is the tradition of Sāṃkhya associated with the Pātañjalayogaśāstra textual tradition. Yoga is in this tradition defined as samādhi, concentration and the focus is on meditation and not āsanas. The most important form of lay practice in this contemporary Bengali Sāṃkhyayoga tradition is the melodious recitation of Sāṃkhyayoga stotras. The paper analyzes the texts and the rituals associated with this Sāṃkhyayoga practice. The melodious recitation of the stotras takes place early in the morning and in the evening and the same stotras are recited every day. The stotras describe the Sāṃkhyayoga teaching and teachers, the philosophy of renunciation, the goal of salvific liberation, and devotion to Īśvara. The paper analyzes this yogic textual and ritual practice.

What Does the Entextualiztion of the Body tell us about Persons? Implicit Anthropologies in pre-Philosophical Śaivism

Gavin Flood

Some years ago, I wrote about the entextualization of the body in tantric ritual: namely the ways in which textual prescriptions about cosmology are mapped onto the body and how the hierarchy of the body recapitulates the hierarchy of the cosmos in tantric traditions. Furthermore, this entextualization has a soteriological purpose. But thinking further, what does this kind of entextualization tell us about concepts of person and the ways in which people are embedded in their contexts (perhaps, how is society entextualised)? What are the implicit anthropologies within such entextualization?
To address such questions, I wish to examine not overt philosophies of the person that we find in dualistic and non-dualistic Śaivism, that developed their doctrines explicitly in relation to each other and to non-Śaiva traditions, especially Buddhism, but rather pre-philosophical discourse as reflected in revealed texts. Tantras, such as the Netratantra, exemplify such a pre-philosophical discourse in the sense that they contain philosophical ideas but do not present systematic arguments (that is the job of later commentators). These texts are regarded as divine revelation. I wish here to examine divergent pre-philosophical understandings of the person, different implicit anthropologies, such as implicit idealism (that we find in chapter eight of the Netratantra), cosmological views (such as what Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen identifies as a distinctive ‘Śākta anthropology’), ‘porous’ views of self (to use Taylor’s useful phrase), and atomic views. I shall refer mostly to the Netratantra as exemplifying distinct perspectives on the nature of the person that we can infer from the more general structure of the entextualization of the body.