South Asia Seminar Series

South Asia Seminar Series: The Murderous Saint: Making Sense of the Life of Ra Lotsawa

Lecture by Bryan J. Cuevas

Tibet’s scandalous eleventh-century tantric master, monk, and translator of Buddhist scripture, Ra Lotsawa Dorjé Drak, is notorious for having killed through magical means more than a dozen of his rivals and others he perceived as antagonistic to his spiritual mission. How does tradition make sense of this murderous saint and why would the life of such a peculiar sort of Buddhist hero be considered worthy of celebration and memorialized in writing in an extravagant work of Tibetan namtar, an exemplary Tibetan Buddhist sacred biography? In my presentation these and other questions are on the table for discussion.

Thursday, May 5, 2016 - 4:30am
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar Series:

Lecture given by David M. DiValerio.

Long-term meditative retreat—for one year, three years, or ten, in a cloister or a cave, sometimes sealed—has been a defining feature of Tibet’s Buddhism for the past millennium. This presentation lays out some new ways of understanding this phenomenon, drawing on The Holy Madmen of Tibet (Oxford 2015), The Life of the Madman of Ü (2016), and on some preliminary research for a new anthropological and historical study of meditation.

Thursday, April 14, 2016 - 4:30pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar: “Putting the Buddha to Work: Śākyamuni in the Service of Tibetan Monastic Identity”

Lecture given by Andrew Quintman.

This talk explores how images and texts related to Śākyamuni Buddha served as a broad organizing principal (a “Buddha program”) for Phuntsokling Monastery in western Tibet, seat of the seventeenth-century polymath Tāranātha (1575-1634). It suggests that the monastery’s central icon—a Śākyamuni statue of miraculous origin—not only acted as a locus of spiritual power. It also served Tāranātha in the promotion of his monastery, first as the literal center of the institution’s Buddha program, and second as a source of elevated prestige for Phuntsokling and its patrons during a time of political tension between the rulers of western Tibet and the ascendant Dalai Lama in Lhasa.

Thursday, March 31, 2016 - 4:30pm
Foster Hall 103

South Asia Seminar Series: “The Medical Profession in Ancient India: Its Social, Religious, and Legal Status"

South Asia Seminar Series presentation by Patrick Olivelle, Professor Emeritus, Department of Asian Studies, University of Texas, Austin and Visiting Professor.

What was the social status of medical professionals in ancient India? Did that status differ among different socio-economic and religious groups? This seminar examines these issues based on an examination of the terminology used by ancient Indian texts for medical professionals and finds, in these terms, clues to their changing status within Indian society.

Thursday, November 19, 2015 - 4:30pm
Foster 103

South Asian Seminar Series: “What Should the Bhakti Movement Be?”

South Asia Seminar presentation by Jack Hawley.

In his book A Storm of Songs (Harvard University Press, 2015), Jack Hawley attempts to unearth the historical, political, and performative contingencies that gave birth to the concept of the bhakti movement. It emerges that, starting with the Mughals and their Kachvaha allies, North Indian groups looked to the Hindu South as a resource that would give religious and linguistic depth to their own collective history. Only in the early twentieth century, however, did the idea of a bhakti “movement” crystallize -- in the intellectual circle surrounding Rabindranath Tagore in Bengal. What should we do with the idea of the bhakti movement once we recognize that this portrait of history is deeply conditioned by a history of its own?

Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 4:30pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar Series: "Civility and Religious Coexistence in Asokan Edicts: A Political Theory Perspective"

South Asia Seminar presentation by Rajeev Bhargava.

Scholars have frequently praised Asoka for his policy of toleration. Bhargava delves deeper into the issue, focusing on the conditions that forces him to first encourage people with diverse religious and philosophical background to live together, not back-to-back but face -to-face, and then, by formulating public norms of civility among different 'pasandas' engaged in fierce verbal disputes, provides secular foundations of such 'living together'. Bhargava argues that this norm is at the heart of his novel formulation of Dhamma. It goes beyond toleration and comes close to equal respect.

Thursday, October 15, 2015 - 4:30pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar Series: “Army and Nation: How Did India Make its Army Safe for Democracy?”

South Asia Seminar presentation by Steven Wilkinson.

At Indian independence in 1947, the country’s founders worried that the army India inherited— conservative and dominated by officers and troops drawn disproportionately from a few “martial” groups—posed a real threat to democracy. They also saw the structure of the army, with its recruitment on the basis of caste and religion, as incompatible with their hopes for a new secular nation.

India has successfully preserved its democracy, however, unlike many other colonial states that inherited imperial “divide and rule” armies, and unlike its neighbor Pakistan, which inherited part of the same Indian army in 1947. As Steven I. Wilkinson shows, the puzzle of how this happened is even more surprising when we realize that the Indian Army has kept, and even expanded, many of its traditional “martial class” units, despite promising at independence to gradually phase them out.

Army and Nation draws on uniquely comprehensive data to explore how and why India has succeeded in keeping the military out of politics, when so many other countries have failed. It uncovers the command and control strategies, the careful ethnic balancing, and the political, foreign policy, and strategic decisions that have made the army safe for Indian democracy. Wilkinson goes further to ask whether, in a rapidly changing society, these structures will survive the current national conflicts over caste and regional representation in New Delhi, as well as India’s external and strategic challenges.

Thursday, October 1, 2015 - 4:30pm
Foster 103