The modus operandi of the philosophical debates concerning adequate concepts of God is best described as being firmly based on a divine attribute approach. On this view, a concept of God is firstly related to a variety of exegetically discovered or philosophically justified attributes apparently worthy of the divine—such as perfection, omniscience, omnipotence, eternity, aseity, etc. Secondly, these attributes, taken individually or collectively, are assessed for their adequacy and consistency within a concept of God inasmuch as it can hold up to exegetical or philosophical scrutiny.
Although Western philosophy of religion has developed many useful exegetical and philosophical tools for evaluating Abrahamitic conceptions of God as they apply to respective philosophical traditions, there is a growing awareness that such monotheistic Western approaches might conceal and prohibit a culturally sensitive and philosophically adequate appreciation of the numerous concepts of God found in religious traditions outside of the Western hemisphere. This awareness, which is part of the motivation beyond what is known as cross-cultural or global philosophy of religion, encompasses both the need for and the encouragement of new dialogues between Western philosophy of religion and non-Western traditions as a means to foster a deeper mutual understanding of the variety of concepts of God developed in the history of humankind.
Vaiṣṇavism is commonly referred to as one of the great Hindu monotheistic traditions. Besides often being considered monotheistic, the concept of God in Vaiṣṇavism as a whole is also frequently depicted in terms of divine attributes, which is traditionally associated with a set of approaches philosophers nowadays describe as classical theism and perfect being theology. The problem with using such academic methods to determine any given Vaisnava concept of God is that they obfuscates some of the important and innate features of the latter, such as the particular semantic—and philosophical—contexts within which terms like “perfection”, “omniscience”, “omnipotence”, “eternity”, etc. are understood. They also bypass other peculiarities prevalent throughout Vaiṣṇava conceptions of God, such as: a plurality of divine forms, referred to as “avatāras”; an acceptance of other deities in the Hindu pantheon; and an ambiguity in the relation between Viṣṇu (or Kṛṣṇa) and some of these deities—notoriously Śiva and Lakṣmī—as well as between Viṣṇu (or Kṛṣṇa) and His potencies (prakṛti, in Sāṅkhya terminology, and śakti, in Puranic terms)—the latter encompassing entities ranging across deities like Lakṣmī, individual souls and the world (for more on this see the project summary).
Against this backdrop of methodology, the purpose of this workshop is to approach the concepts of God found in some of the main Vaiṣṇava traditions and texts in order to locate them within a global philosophical framework. The speakers of the workshop—who are also the contributors of the anthology God and Vaiṣṇavism: Philosophical Perspectives on a Vaiṣṇava Concept of God—will be invited to answer the following question:
What is the Vaiṣṇava concept of God? Or more specifically: What attributes does God possess according to particular textual sources and traditions in Vaiṣṇavism? Given a specific divine attribute X, for instance, what does it mean to say, in Vaiṣṇava tradition (or textual source) Y, that God possesses X?
Additionally, some speakers will address other questions, such as:
Is a specific Vaiṣṇava tradition or text Y’s concept of God a monotheistic one? Is it a consistent concept? What are the philosophical difficulties peculiar to it? To what extent does Y resort to perfect being theology to construct its concept of God?
The workshop will be held on Zoom. It starts every day at 3 pm CEST, lasting approximately two hours and a half. The recorded talks will later be uploaded to the Logic and Religion Youtube channel. There will be no fee for participation. Click here to register. Click here to download the program of the workshop.
Thinking about God
Swami Bhaktivedanta and the HKM
Philosophical Issues with the Concept of God
Ramakrishna and the RKM
Varieties of Theism
Caitanya Tradition and Bhavagad Gītā
Alan Herbert (Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, UK)
Ricardo Sousa Silvestre (Federal University of Campina Grande, Brazil)
Gabriel Reis de Oliveira (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil)
MONOTHEISM AND THE LIKE
A Project Summary
The Hindu Vaiṣṇava tradition is often viewed as a monotheistic tradition. We find evidence for this in many of its scriptural sources (such as Bhavagad Gītā, Bhagavat Purāṇa, Viṣṇu Purāṇa, some Upaniṣads and many Pāñcarātras and Āgamas) as well in the teachings of its ācāryas (spiritual preceptors). It might be argued, however, that this is too hasty a conclusion. Vaiṣṇavism addresses the concept of God within several contexts. First, it supports the idea that the Supreme Personal God Viṣṇu manifests himself in different divine forms (usually referred to as “avatāras”), such as Kṛṣṇa and Rāma, often with an ontological hierarchy existing between them. Second, Vaiṣṇavism traditionally accepts the existence of other deities in the Hindu pantheon, such as Brahma, Śiva, Durgā, Indra, Varuṇa and the Goddess Lakṣmī. Third, the relation between Viṣṇu and some of these deities, notoriously Śiva and Lakṣmī, is ambiguous, sometimes being described as one of identity and sometimes as one of difference. And fourth, the relation between Viṣṇu and His potencies (prakṛti, in sāṅkhya terminology, and śakti, in puranic terms)—these encompassing entities ranging across deities like Lakṣmī, individual souls and the world—is a major theme, which has brought about its own set of controversies. While Madhva (13th century) emphasizes a dualism whereby Viṣṇu differs from His potencies (although he is their source), others such as Rāmānuja (11th century), Nimbārka (12th century) and Jīva (16th century) argue, with slightly different implications, that in some sense Viṣṇu is both different (bheda) and non-different (abheda) from them.
Given all this, we might wonder: is Vaiṣṇavism really a monotheistic tradition? Or, to put it in conceptual terms, is the Vaiṣṇava concept of God a monotheistic one? More importantly, how can the Vaiṣṇava concept of God be philosophically characterized? What divine properties does the Vaiṣṇava God possess? Can it be described in a consistent way? Or is it a contradictory concept of God? If so, how would this affect its intelligibility? Does the Vaiṣṇava concept of God have some advantage over traditional philosophical accounts of God? How does it relate to more well-known accounts of God, such as classical theism, pantheism, panentheism, process theism, open theism, etc.? What are the difficulties peculiar to it? Is there a positive-conceptual basis for rationally accepting the Vaiṣṇava account of God, i.e., is the Vaiṣṇava concept of God fruitful?
The general goal of this project is to answer these questions and approach the Vaiṣṇava concept of God from a contemporary philosophical perspective. Although the project is plural in the sense of taking into account all Vaiṣṇava traditions, it has a specific goal, which is to philosophically reconstruct through a divine attribute approach the concepts of God found in two Vaiṣṇava texts: Jīva Goswami’s Sat Sandharba (16th century) and Bhavagad Gītā. Whereas the latter text is central for all Vaiṣṇava traditions, the former belongs to one tradition, Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism, that is both unique and interdependent with the other Vaiṣṇava traditions due to its dialogical composition.
Regarding the outputs for the first stage of the project, we will organise: (1) an online workshop entitled “God and Vaiṣṇavism: The Tradition Speaks for Itself”; (2) an online conference with a call for abstracts entitled “Vaiṣṇavism, Hinduism and the Concept of God”; (3) several post-conference publications; (4) a published anthology on Vaiṣṇavism and the concept of God; and (5) two papers: one on the concept of God in Bhavagad Gītā and a second on the concept of God in Jīva’s Sat Sandharba.
The second stage of the project concerns the fruitfulness of the Vaiṣṇava concept of God (or our philosophically reconstructed versions of the Vaiṣṇava concept of God, to be more precise). Here we will focus on the philosophical problem of consciousness. We will try to answer the following question: Can the basic tenets of the theistic bhedābheda (sameness-and-difference) philosophy of the Caitanya Vaiṣṇava Tradition be useful for developing a compelling account of the relation between matter and consciousness? (Philosophically, Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism presents itself within the framework of Vedānta, a pan-Indian philosophical and commentarial tradition.). The outcome of this second stage will be one article on this issue.
VAIṢṆAVISM, HINDUISM & THE CONCEPT OF GOD
(the exact date will be announced soon)
The Hindu Vaiṣṇava tradition is often depicted in terms similar to what philosophers nowadays call classical theism and perfect being theology: its God is described as a perfect, omniscient, omnipotent, all-good, eternal, both immanent and transcendent, and personlike entity. It is also often viewed as a monotheistic tradition, although this seems to be threatened by some of its distinguishing features, such as: its plurality of divine forms, referred to as “avatāras”, its acceptance of other deities in the Hindu pantheon, the ambiguous relation between Viṣṇu and some of these deities - notoriously Śiva and Lakṣmī - as well as between Viṣṇu and His potencies (prakṛti, in sāṅkhya terminology, and śakti, in puranic terms), which encompass entities ranging across deities like Lakṣmī, individual souls and the world (for more on this see the project summary). Because of this last feature, the vaiṣṇava tradition is sometimes also seen as a panentheistic tradition: the universe is in some sense a part of God (recall Rāmānuja famous soul-body analogy, according to which the universe is God’s body).
Given all this, we might wonder: is Vaiṣṇavism really a monotheistic tradition? Or, to put it in conceptual terms, is the Vaiṣṇava concept of God a monotheistic one? More importantly, how can the Vaiṣṇava concept of God be philosophically characterized,? What divine properties does the Vaiṣṇava God possess? Can it be described in a consistent way? Or is it a contradictory concept of God? If so, how would this affect its intelligibility? Does the Vaiṣṇava concept of God have some advantage over traditional philosophical accounts of God? How does it relate to more well-known accounts of God, such as classical theism, pantheism, panentheism, process theism, open theism, etc.? What are the difficulties peculiar to it?
Similar problems and questions can be posed in relation to other so-called monotheistic Hindu traditions such as Śaivism and Śaktism.
Our purpose in this conference is to address these questions and approach the Vaiṣṇava concept of God and other Hindu concepts of God from a contemporary philosophical perspective. We invite submissions of contributed papers on general philosophical topics related to Vaiṣṇavism, Hinduism the concept of God, including but not restricted to philosophical approaches to the following themes:
Divine attributes and the vaiṣṇava (śaiva/śakta) concept of God.
Vaiṣṇavism and other Indian traditions.
Hinduism and western conceptions of God.
Arguments against the coherence of Hindu concepts of God;
Vaiṣṇavism (Śaivism/Śaktism): monotheistic, panentheistic or what?
Language and God in Hindu traditions.
God and His potencies;
God and Hindu deities;
Consistency, contradiction and the vaiṣṇava (śaiva/śakta) concept of God.l goal of this project is to answer these questions and approach
There will be no fee for participation. Registration however is required for issuing certificates. An e-book of abstracts will be available a couple of days prior to the conference. The conference will be attended through Zoom; the recorded talks will later be uploaded to the Logic and Religion Youtube channel.
After the conference, there will be a call for papers where participants will be invited to submit complete versions of their presentations. Review will be double-blinded. The accepted papers will be published in one or more special issues of a respected philosophical journal.
More details about the conference, including the list of invited speakers and submission details, will be posted soon.
Alan C. Herbert
Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (UK)
Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany)
Gabriel Reis de Oliveira
Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil)
The Project Team
There will be several publications as a result of this project, including:
Anthology There will be an anthology entitled God and Vaiṣṇavism: Philosophical Perspectives on a Vaiṣṇava Concept of God, to be published by a respected publishing house. This anthology will address the general theme of Vaiṣṇavism and the Concept of God. The table of contents follows :
Chapter 1. Introduction
Part I. The Concept of God
Chapter 2. Varieties of Theism, Benedikt Göcke (Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany)
Chapter 3. Thinking about God, Graham Oppy (Monash University, Australia)
Chapter 4. Philosophical Issues with the Concept of God, Rebecca Chan (San José State University, USA)
Part II. God in Vaiṣṇava Texts
Chapter 5. The Concept of God in the Bhavagad Gītā: A Panentheistic Account, Ricardo Silvestre (Federal University of Campina Grande, Brazil) and Alan Herbert (Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, UK)
Chapter 6. Form and Beauty: God in the Bhagavata Purāṇa, Edwin Francis Bryant (Rutgers University, USA)
Chapter 7. Reflections on Pāñcarātra Conceptions of Deity, Gavin Flood (University of Oxford, UK)
Chapter 8. Expounding God’s Singularity in the Mahābhārata Epic, Angelika Malinar (University of Zurich, Switzerland)
Part III. God in Vaiṣṇava Traditions
Chapter 9: The Āḻvār concept of God: A Look at Toṇṭaraṭippoṭi Āḻvār's and Maturakavi Āḻvār's Objects of Worship, Suganya Anandakichenin (University of Hamburg, Germany)
Chapter 10: God In the Śrī Vaiṣṇava Tradition, Arindam Chakrabarti (University of Hawaii, USA)
Chapter 11: The Concept of God in Madhva’s Tatva-vada, Shrinivasa Varakhedi (Central Sanskrit University, India) and Srinivasa Kumar N Acharya (Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India)
Chapter 12: Non-theism and Theism in the Nimbārka Sampradāya, Vijay Ramnarace (Georgetown University, USA)
Chapter 13: God in Puṣṭimārga, Frederick M. Smith (University of Iowa, USA)
Chapter 14: A Polyvalent Concept of God in the Caitanya Vaiṣṇava Tradition, Alan Herbert (Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, UK) and Ricardo Silvestre (Federal University of Campina Grande, Brazil)
Chapter 15: Harmonizing the Personal God with the Impersonal Brahman: Situating Sri Ramakrishna vis-à-vis Vaiṣṇava Vedānta Traditions, Swami Medhananda (Ramakrishna Institute of Moral and Spiritual Education, India)
Chapter 16: God as the Supreme Teacher: Swami Prabhupada’s Modern Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Mission to Reveal ‘The Supreme Personality of Godhead’, Kenneth R. Valpey (Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, UK) and Akshay Gupta (University of Cambridge, UK)
Articles The three papers to be published are described below. (1) The Concept of God in Bhavagad Gītā. In this paper we will reconstruct the concept of God found in Bhavagad Gītā. We will analyse the divine properties that the Gītā attributes to God and how they should be understood from a semantical point of view. We will also try to associate this reconstructed concept with known philosophical categories, such as monotheism, panentheism, etc., comparing it with other philosophically relevant concepts of God. Finally, we will determine the philosophical advantages of this concept of God over more traditional concepts, along with the difficulties peculiar to it. (2) The Concept of God in Jīva’s Sat Sandharba. A similar approach to Bhagavad Gītā above will be taken with respect to the concept of God in Jīva’s Sat Sandharba. Additionally, we will compare Jīva’s concept of God with the Gītā’s. (3) Consciousness and the Bhedābheda Vedānta Concept of God. In this paper we will discern whether our reconstructed concepts of God can engage with as well as shed some light on the philosophical problem of consciousness. Due to time constraints and the depth of this issue, we will not present a developed theory. Instead, our purpose is to take advantage of our reconstructed concepts of God to locate the Vaiṣṇava view on consciousness and matter within the contemporary menu of ontological approaches to consciousness and to offer a preliminary analysis of its philosophical prospects and shortcoming. This will provide well-informed initial steps towards answering the question of whether the Vaiṣṇava concept of God is plausible.
Post-Conference Publications After the conference Vaiṣṇavism, Hinduism and the Concept of God, there will be a call for papers where participants will be invited to submit complete versions of their presentations. The accepted papers will be published in one or more special issues of a respected philosophical journal. Review will be double-blinded.
This project was made possible through the support of a grant from John Templeton Foundation, awarded via the Global Philosophy of Religion Project (hosted by the Birmingham Centre for Philosophy of Religion). The project is hosted by the Brazilian Association for the Philosophy of Religion in collaboration with the Logic and Religion Association (LARA).