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Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions
Sponsored by the Spalding Trust
From Dermot Killingley (Convenor, 39th Symposium, 2014)


The 39th annual Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions took place from Friday afternoon to Sunday midday, on the 25th-27th April 2014, in Luther King House, Manchester. This was the first time since the 1980s that it was not held in Oxford, and also the first time since the 1980s that it was not organised by Dr Anna King, who has retired as Convenor while remaining an enthusiastic participant and committee member, in addition to her work at the University of Winchester.

The move away from Oxford, where demand for conference facilities is very high, was intended to ensure lower cost and greater flexibility in numbers, and this has proved effective, reducing the conference fee from £240 to £170. We were glad to have Manchester University people among the participants, including Jacqueline Suthren Hirst, John Zavos, and Valerie Roebuck. Many participants commented on the pleasantness of the venue and its catering and other facilities. The weather was kind, and there were blossom and bird¬song, including an owl, though there was also a meaningless fire alarm in the small hours of Saturday.

24 people participated, of whom five were from overseas, including two university teachers from India, and two research students from North America. We are grateful to the Spalding Trust for funding which enabled us to subsidise these and also one UK-based researcher. 15 papers were presented, covering aspects of the Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Sikh traditions, including both text-based studies and fieldwork in the South Asian diaspora. As usual, each paper was scheduled for one hour, including about 15 minutes for questions and discussion. One intending participant had to withdraw his paper as he was unwell and unable to come. Despite the busy schedule, participants enjoyed meeting each other, continuing their discussions and exchanging information and ideas.

Valerie Roebuck filled the traditionally light-hearted Saturday evening slot with a search for the apparently missing cat in Indian literature and art, giving a witty and erudite felinist revision. Catherine Robinson commemorated the often neglected contribution of Indian soldiers in the First World War. Naomi Appleton and James Hegarty presented samples of their ongoing work on interconnected Hindu, Buddhist and Jain narratives, and Alice Collett used epigraphic and other material to show the place of nuns in early Buddhism. Lal Kumar Jha discussed the meaning of vimutti/vimukti and related ideas of liberation in Buddhist and Hindu texts, while Theodore Gabriel looked at non-violence in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Robert Leach, who is doing post-doctoral research in Zürich, examined the history of the pentad Veda Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Pāñcarātra, Pāśupata in the Sanskrit tradition of doxography, and different views on their compatibility or incompatibility. Dhrubajyoti Sarkar, from Kalyani (West Bengal), contrasted Ramakrishna’s position as a rustic ascetic with his fascination with the colonial capital, with its carriages, theatres, photographic studios, water supply, gaslight, and other manifestations of modernity.

In contemporary studies, Anna King looked at the role of Buddhism in peacebuilding in Nepal, and Mahinda Deegalle examined Buddhist extremist movements in Sri Lanka. Eleanor Nesbitt examined the disputed place of vegetarianism and meat-eating among Sikhs. Using field observation, Catherine St-Hilaire from Montreal, who is now researching the Sikhs of Milan, showed the significance of a journey to the Punjab for the self-identity of Birmingham Sikhs, Rupa Pillai from Texas showed how Caribbean Hindus bring their rituals and healing practices to New York, and Martin Wood showed how the tradition of distributing food begun by Jalaram Bapa in Gujarat in 1820 is carried on in London.

I have handed over the work of Convenor with great confidence to Dr Naomi Appleton of Edinburgh University, who has already started planning the 2015 Symposium. At a meeting of the Committee at the end of this year’s Symposium, it was decided to move from year to year to different places where Indian Religions are studied, including eventually both Oxford and Manchester. Next year it will be in Edinburgh.

Dermot Killingley
2 May 2014


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