46th Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions Schedule

We are pleased to announce this year’s online symposium to be held April 23-25 2021 (online) – all timings are BST (GMT+1).

Please register via this link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/46th-spalding-symposium-onindian-religions-tickets-142207834461

Day 1: Friday 23rd April

11.55-12.00: Welcome

12.00-13.00: Keynote Address

Jacqueline Suthren-Hirst (University of Manchester)

When is a Blue Lotus not a Blue Lotus? Categorisation, Learning and Epistemic Skills

13.00-13.15: Coffee Break

13.15-14.15: Arun Brahmbhatt (St Lawrence University)

Debating the Scholastic ‘Other’ in Svaminarayan Literature

14.15-15.15: Heleen De Jonckheere (University of Chicago)

Vernacularising Jainism. The Dharmaparīkṣā by Manohardāss

15.15-15.30: Coffee Break

Postgraduate papers:

15.30-16.00: Szilvia Szanyi (University of Oxford)

The Changing Meanings of the Term Āśraya in Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya

16.00-16.30: Ranjamrittika Bhowmik (University of Oxford)

Mystical Utterances of Sahaja: The Soul-Body Amalgam in Caryāgīti, Tukkhā and Bāul-Fakir Songs of Bengal

16.30-17.00: Seema Chauhan (University of Chicago)

Parodying Mīmāṃsā Epistemology Through a Jaina Rāmāyaṇa

Day 2: Saturday 24th April

11.00-12.00: Ananya Vajpeyi (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies)

The Ethics of Poetry and the Poetry of Ethics: Bhartṛhari’s Three Hundred Reconsidered

12.00-13.00: Karl-Stéphan Bouthilette (University of Ghent)

Acknowledging the Philosophical and Spiritual Value of Doxography as a Literary Genre

13.00-13.15: Coffee Break

13.15-14.15: Christopher T. Fleming (University of Oxford)

Devasvatva: New Contributions to the Study of the Sanskrit Jurisprudence of Divine Ownership

14.15-15.15: Caley Smith (University of Washington)

What Kind of a Subject is the Vedic Śūdra?

15.15-15.30: Coffee Break

15.30-16.30: Stuart Ray Sarbacker (Oregon State University)

Pātañjala Yoga and Buddhist Abhidharma on Extraordinary Perfections and Accomplishments: A Comparison of Pātañjalayogaśāstra 4.1 and Abhidharmakośa 7.53 on the sources of Siddhi and Ṛddhi

16.30-17.15: Plenary (Topic TBC)

Day 3: Sunday 25th April

12.00-13.00: Charles DiSimone (University of Ghent)

Notes on Recent Buddhist Manuscript Discoveries from Mes Aynak and Greater Gandhāra

13.00-13.15: Coffee Break

13.15-14.15: Jonathan Duquette (University of Cambridge)

Power, Independence and Divinity: A Śaiva Response to Veṅkaṭanātha’s View of the Goddess

14.15-15.15: Deepak Sarma (Case Western Reserve University)

Comparison as Means of Colonization, Comparison as Strategy to Controvert: Madhva Vedanta and Christianity

15.15-15.30: Coffee Break

Postgraduate papers:

15.30-16.00: Radha Blinderman (Harvard University)

Why Kṛṣṇa and Śakti Have Their Own Grammars: Rivalry and Innovation in Sectarian Grammars of Sanskrit

16.00-16.30: Charlotte Gorant (Columbia University)

Nāgas in Early Buddhism: Fluidity and Framing Presence in Art

16.30-17.30: Keynote Address

Oliver Freiberger (University of Texas at Austin)

Comparing Religion Within and Beyond South Asia

17.30-17.35: Closing Remarks

Call for papers: 2021 Spalding Symposium

Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions

Call for Papers – Deadline 22 January 2021:

We invite proposals for papers for the 46th Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, which will be held online, on 23-25 April 2021. Our purview includes both religions of South Asian origin wherever in the world they are being practised, and those of non South Asian origin present within South Asia. We welcome papers based upon all research methods, including textual, historical, ethnographic, sociological and philosophical.

Presenters are allocated forty minutes for their paper and twenty minutes for discussion. There is no conference fee, but all presenters and attendees must register. Registration details will be released in the new year. We also welcome proposals from doctoral students, who will be allocated twenty minutes for their paper and ten minutes for discussion. 

We are delighted to announce our keynote speakers: 

  • Dr Jacqueline Suthren Hirst, who recently retired from Manchester University, UK
  • Prof. Oliver Freiberger of the University of Texas at Austin, USA

If you would like to give a presentation, please send a title and abstract (maximum 500 words) to the Spalding Symposium committee:  spaldingsymposium1@gmail.com, by 22 January 2021.

Abstracts for Spalding Online 2020

September 26th 2020, 1.15pm to 5.45pm (BST)

Abstracts [see post below for schedule and booking]

Debating God’s Existence in Medieval Vedānta: Vyāsatīrtha vs. the Navya-Naiyāyikas

Michael Williams, IKGA of the Austrian Academy of Sciences

This paper focuses on the philosophical writings of a sixteenth-century Vedānta philosopher named Vyāsatīrtha (1460–1539). Vyāsatīrtha was both an admirer and a critic of the works of the epistemologist and rational theologian Gaṅgeśa Upādhyāya (fl. 1350). Vyāsatīrtha’s magnum opusthe Tarkatāṇḍava, contains one of the most detailed critiques of Gaṅgeśa ever written by a Vedānta philosopher. His critique of Gaṅgeśa is currently the subject of a project hosted at the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia in Vienna.

In the Tarkatāṇḍava, Vyāsatīrtha takes on Gaṅgeśa’s claim that the existence and nature of god can be established through inferential reasoning. Despite being a devoted theist, Vyāsatīrtha argues that metaphysical truths like the existence of god are innately beyond the ken of human reasoning. In the “Chapter on God” (Īśvaravāda) of the Tarkatāṇḍava, he builds a case against Gaṅgeśa to prove that inferential reasoning is innately unable to grasp matters like the existence of god, just as one sense modality is unable to perceive the objects of another. Vyāsatīrtha shows in an elegant and playful dialogue that the empiricistic constraints placed upon inference by the Naiyāyikas themselves render it impossible for inference to support their larger metaphysical commitments.

In this paper, I will focus on Vyāsatīrtha’s critique of Gaṅgeśa’s attempts to infer the existence of a disembodied creator. Vyāsatīrtha argues that the rules of inference accepted by the Naiyāyikas themselves make it impossible for them to infer the existence of such an unprecedented being. He concludes that only the Veda can tell us about the existence and nature of god.

Toward a Theory of Scriptural Authority in Early Colonial Western India

Avni Chag, School of Oriental and African Studies

The advent of British colonialism in India is tangled with histories of ‘reform and renaissance’, which forced religious communities on the ground to negotiate and navigate the various currents and technicalities of religious change, secularism and nationalism. This paper explores how British prioritisation of understanding Hindu religious life and activity according to Christian ideas and principles has impacted and defined particular features of the Swaminarayan Sampradāya, an emerging Hindu devotional tradition in the early nineteenth century. At the turn of the century, Sahajānanda Svāmī (1781-1830), also known as Svāminārāyaṇa, already had a sizeable following, which was beginning to seep into the religious landscape across western India, present day Gujarat. Today his sampradāya is one of the most visible formations of Hinduism, with a rapidly growing global following and thousands of temples worldwide. Though it has a confident presence today with consolidated ideas of ritual, practice and theology, as well as canons of core texts, some of its early authoritative literature presents a paradoxical picture. Elements of surrounding dominant cultures – including customs and laws, devotional procedure and practice, theological principles and beliefs, structures and genres of texts – permeate certain early texts. Sometimes these interreligious elements appear incompatible with each other and with various renderings of Svāminārāyaṇa doctrine and praxis articulated elsewhere.

In this paper I look at one such text, the Śikṣāpatrī, a short letter of instructions on moral behaviour and devotional procedure, written for Svāminārāyaṇa followers by Sahajānanda Svāmī, the founder and accepted deity of the sampradāya. The Śikṣāpatrī is one of the most important texts of the sampradāya and venerated as scripture by many followers. The text’s early life included a formal ‘first draft’, which when compared with the popular recension in use today, appears less connected with the prevalent landscape of the time period. It is without any direct affiliations to theological schools, treatises and practices, a trend which is dominant in the popularised recension. I propose that changes made between the recensions are part of a series of calculated efforts by early members of the sampradāya to make the text appear ‘interreligious’, and, more significantly, a result of the effects of the British Christian presence in Gujarat at the time. I will demonstrate that the privileging of this text as ‘scripture’, and thus, its contents as ‘scriptural’, speaks of a perceived need to situate the text, and by extension the sampradāya, in relation to ready-established traditions and the British ruling authority. In so doing, I theorise how the early Svāminārāyaṇa Sampradāya utilised interreligious registers and axioms such as ‘scripture’ in its critically formative years as part of its larger project of self-authorisation. Furthermore, though interreligiosity within ‘scripture’ may have been a survival mechanism at the time, it appears to be central to how factions within the sampradāya identify and define themselves against each other today. 

Reflecting on animal sacrifice through dramatic fiction: Examining plays by Girish Karnad and Rabindranath Tagore

Mikel Burley, University of Leeds

Animal sacrifice has been a constant—and often controversial—feature of certain forms of religion in India over several millennia. It has also been a topic of artistic reflection. This paper first offers an overview of the place of animal sacrifice in Indian and Nepalese contexts before turning to an exposition and analysis of two highly relevant plays: Bali: The Sacrifice by Girish Karnad (2002) and Sacrifice by Rabindranath Tagore (1917). Far from being reducible to a didactic polemic either in support of or in opposition to animal sacrifice, each of these plays constitutes a nuanced enactment of conflicting positions, both between and internal to certain key characters. By bringing out these nuances, I argue that the plays exemplify how works of dramatic fiction, along with other art forms, can provide important resources for reflecting upon the complex motivations for and against the performance of animal sacrifice in Indian traditions.

The Royal Hospitality: A Comparative Study of Kingship in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and the Jātakas’

Preeti Gulati, Jawaharlal Nehru University

An offering of food, drink, or shelter is a frequent literary motif across normative and narrative texts in early India, signifying not just reprieve, but also an honour for the receiver. When this transaction of hospitality involved the king, the embodiment of the ideal householder in early India, it determined not only the state’s relationship with the various subjects in its realm but also reflected the ideal socio-moral order. Who the king chose to host, to give to, and receive from were visible articulations of kingship and religion in daily life. This paper compares the notions of kingship in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and the Jātakas as demonstrated in the transactional activity of royal hospitality.

Both Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and the Jātaka tales were codified into text roughly between 300 BCE and 150 CE but were in circulation as ‘folklore’ much before this period. These texts thus served as key performative texts on kingship, etching out the ‘ideal king’ as a role-model for emulation. This idealisation, and the deviation from the same, was most visible in dietary practices. As I shall show, both Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and the Jātakas, used the motif and narrative of royal hospitality to glorify and justify the material prosperity of the ideal king. Yet, these texts portrayed similar modes of extravagance such as among the rākśasas, niṣādas, yakṣas and yakṣanīs, as a propensity for ‘excess’ , ’indulgence’ and hence immorality, thereby delegitimizing their mode of kingship. This moral juxtaposition between the righteous and the immoral king is common to both the texts. Yet, what constituted as morally righteous or unacceptable was rooted in normative ethics of the respective religious traditions, and hence a comparative reading reveals the confronting and competitive ideologies of Brahmanism and Buddhism.

Current historiography on early Indian kingship prefers normative texts that clearly delineate political philosophy, like the Mahābharata or the Arthaśāstra. However, Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and the Jātakas, in combining the functions of narrative and normative literature, allow us to read in the enactments how normative codes manifested in daily life. In particular, the focus on royal hospitality demonstrates how cultural codes were embedded in policies of statecraft. Thus, Rāma’s interactions with various social orders, from ascetics to vānaras and niśada king Guha, were symptomatic of relations between sovereign powers and the contestations within. Similarly, comparative reading of occasions of royal hospitality, like consecrations, funerary or ancestral rites, departure of royal heirs to exile, or the items and the social strata of guests in these feasts, also reveals how Brahmanism and Buddhism used the institution of kingship to articulate their key tenets. For example, the Buddhist norms on claims to kingship, or even the receivers of royal hospitality, expanded and accommodated in ways that critiqued the rigidity of Brahmanical caste structures. Through these crucial comparisons, this paper highlights how quotidian practices of kingship were instrumental to define competitive modes of state authority and the ideal social order.

Engaged Buddhism Across the Three Yānas: A Comparative Approach to a Developing Social Philosophy

Manu Ato-Carrera, School of Oriental and African Studies

Since the emergence of the concept in the 1960s, engaged Buddhism is a term that has been used to describe a variety of religious movements emphasizing the capital role of civic action in religion as their distinctive feature, to the extent of incorporating under this category other similar groups from the late 19th century onward. Moreover, this concept has been applied to a vast number of Buddhist organizations in Asia and the West, to the point of being considered a new yāna by Christopher Queen, a scholar with extensive studies on the topic.   

However, not every kind of civic action performed by a Buddhist group falls under the criteria of engaged Buddhism. Nor has any of their chief representatives claimed to found a new yāna –with the sole exception of B. R. Ambedkar in 1950s India. In that regard, this paper aims to offer a comprehensive definition of the concept and the features of its social philosophy. This analysis reveals a high consistency between their principal leaders in their lives and works across the three Buddhist yānas, despite coming from a plurality of parallel origins. With that purpose, this comparative study focuses on the influential figures of Thich Nhat Hanh (Mahāyāna), the XIV Dalai Lama (Vajrayāna), and Sulak Sivaraksa (Theravāda).

Under these considerations, engaged Buddhism’s social philosophy appears as a post World War II pan-Asian and cross-yānic phenomenon in a context of interaction with Western and global cultures, constituting a paradigm shift in contemporary Buddhist ethics. Furthermore, in its ongoing development, it shows seven key features: civic action-oriented; critical and hermeneutical; insightfully interdependent; spiritually-rooted; nonviolent and compassionate; interreligious and globally driven; and politically unbiased.

Schedule: Spalding Online 2020

Please book your space via eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/spalding-symposium-online-tickets-115876697321

<p class="has-primary-color has-text-color" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><strong>Saturday 26th September 2020</strong>Saturday 26th September 2020

Schedule 13.15-17.45 (British Summer Time)

13:15     Introduction and Welcome

13:30     Debating God’s Existence in Medieval Vedānta:

Vyāsatīrtha vs. the Navya-Naiyāyikas

  Michael Williams, IKGA of the Austrian Academy of Sciences

14.30     Toward a Theory of Scriptural Authority in Early Colonial India

Avni Chag, School of Oriental and African Studies

15.30     Short break

15.45     Reflecting on Animal Sacrifice through Dramatic Fiction: Examining Plays by Girish Karnad and Rabindranath Tagore
Mikel Burley, Leeds University

Graduate papers

16:45     The Royal Hospitality: A Comparative Study of Kingship in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and the Jātakas

              Preeti Gulati, Jawaharlal Nehru University

17:15     Engaged Buddhism Across the Three Yānas: A Comparative Approach to a Developing Social Philosophy

              Manu Ato-Carrera, School of Oriental and African Studies

17:45     Closing Remarks and information about the 2021 Symposium

A Short Online 2020 Spalding Symposium

We hope this message finds you all safe and well.

In light of the current Covid-19 situation and our spring event being cancelled we have decided to hold a short virtual Spalding Symposium this Autumn as a chance for the Spring presentees to showcase their current work. More details will be released in due course but we would like for you to save the date for 26th September 2020. In order to account for the various time zones we will keep the talks in the afternoon. The symposium will last no more than 4 hours. If you have any queries please feel free to email us at spaldingsymposium1@gmail.com.

Please continue to watch this space for other exciting updates and news.

Thank you and the Future

We are honoured to take on the co-convenorship of the Spalding Symposium of Indian Religions going forward, and very happy to have the ongoing support of Dr Brian Black.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Naomi Appleton for her expert stewardship of the Symposium as convenor and treasurer and for developing the internationally renowned status that this scholarly event has.  
We hope to continue the legacy of the previous convenors and organisers before us, maintain the prestige and integrity of this symposium, and continue to connect scholars and students in the UK and across the globe. In the spirit of this new convenorship, we are interested in ideas that you’d like to see in future symposiums and invite you to send these to our email address: spaldingsymposium1@gmail.com

Dr Avni Chag and Dr Karen O’Brien-Kop 

New convenors

After six years at the helm, I am passing on the convenorship of the Spalding Symposium. It has been a real honour to look after the event, with the help of Brian Black and also of local hosts at the various venues. Although a cancelled event in a pandemic was not how I hoped to conclude my convenorship, I am very excited to know that the new convenors will be bringing their fresh ideas and energy to take the event forwards. These new co-convenors (also co-treasurers) are Karen O’Brien-Kop and Avni Chag, and Brian Black will continue to support them as secretary. I know that the Symposium is in very capable hands, and I look forward to continuing to attend and support the event over the coming years.

Additional events around the Symposium


You are all warmly invited to join two additional events taking place on the days before and after this year’s symposium.

On Thursday 23rd April, Prof Maria Heim will give the Edinburgh Buddhist Studies Khyentse lecture on ‘Happiness, Pleasure, and Bliss in Early Buddhism and the Upanishads’, 4-5.30pm in the Martin Hall, New College.

On Monday 27th April, Prof Oliver Freiberger will be involved in a roundtable discussion on his new book Considering Comparison: A Method for Religious Studies (OUP, 2019), with colleagues from the School of Divinity, Edinburgh, 11-12.30 in the Martin Hall, New College.

If you would like to extend your stay in Edinburgh for this or any other reason, you can book additional nights in the symposium hotel by contacting them directly:

Motel One Edinburgh-Royal

18-21 Market Street
EH1 1BL Edinburgh
+44/131/220 073-0

If you have already booked a residential place at the symposium, please tell the hotel that you are staying as part of the group booking by Naomi Appleton, University of Edinburgh. They will charge you direct for any additional nights. You can also arrange additional guests (switching to double or twin occupancy) through the same method.