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Devotion as Self-Shaping: Bhakti between Theology and Aesthetics

When:Mo 11-03-2024 16:00 - 17:30

This meeting is part of the interfaculty seminar series: The Making and Unmaking of Selfhood. Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Ascetic Practices, between Philosophy and Religion

Full programme and link to registration

Speakers and abstracts

2.1 Loving God: What Rāmānuja Means by Bhakti

Shiv Subramaniam (Emory University)

My talk explores the thought of Rāmānuja, an eleventh-century theologian from south India. Specifically, it investigates what Rāmānuja meant when he said that our greatest good consists in bhakti, or devotion to god. I shall begin with a brief introduction to Rāmānuja and his intellectual background. Rāmānuja is the inheritor of two distinct traditions: Vedānta, a tradition dedicated to developing the monistic intuitions of the Sanskrit Upanishads; and Tamil Vaishnavism, the religion of ecstatic devotion to the personal god Vishnu (a devotion expressed most eloquently in the Tamil poetry of the twelve āḻvārs—“the ones who drowned” in god). Honoring the insights of both these traditions, Rāmānuja formulated a complex theology in which loving god (bhakti) amounts to experiencing oneself as an aspect of him. In the bulk of my talk, I will aim to specify this experience, as well as describe the practices Rāmānuja considered necessary for achieving it.

2.2 Savoring Emotions: Subjectivity in Indian Erotic Bhakti and its Aesthetic-Theological Explanation

Saverio Marchignoli (University of Bologna)

I intend to investigate the oscillation between loss and reacquisition of self in the aesthetic-theological explanation of kṛṣṇaite erotic bhakti, especially in the theorization of bhakti-rasa by Rūpa and Jīva Gosvāmin (early 16th century). The theory of bhakti-rasa concerns emotions and the role they play in the process of transformation of the subject up to abandonment in the taste of the erotic relationship with the divine. The theorists' treatment makes use of the language and conceptualization of the Indian aesthetic tradition having as its object the "taste of emotions" (rasa) produced by poetry and theatrical performance.