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INDIAN RELIGIONS & THE CONCEPT OF GOD

Deadline for Submission: November 30, 2022

 

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 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 or the divine developed in the history of humankind.

 

Divinity in some Indian religions, such as Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism and Śaktism, is often conceived monotheistically, as a supreme OmniGod (much like Western accounts of God.) Despite the evidence supporting this, these Indian concepts of God exhibit certain peculiarities that threaten the idea of their being monotheistic (or even theistic, one might say.) For instance, they manifest a plurality of divine forms, referred to as devatās and avatāras (divinely incarnations), they subsequently assimilate or incorporate other divinities in the Hindu pantheon and continue to exist in ambiguous relationships with them (an example being those between Viṣṇu, Śiva, Brahmā, and the Goddess), they are united with ordinary living beings in various ways, and they sometimes possess (exude?) ultimately impersonal or abstract nature. Moreover, in the Indian subcontinent, theistic traditions have resided alongside those that are decidedly non-theistic (for instance, Jain, Buddhist, and naturalist traditions), or non-theistically inclined (such as Nyāya and perhaps Yoga within Hinduism), and possibly a[mono]theistic (as in the Cārvāka and Mīmāṁsā schools) – although concepts of divinity in all these traditions are up for debate. Given all of this, we might ask: are Indian theistic traditions really monotheistic? Or, to put it in conceptual terms, is their concept of God a monotheistic one? Or, is their concept of divinity theistic at all? 

 

Accepting that there are different conceptions of divinity among the Indian religious and philosophical traditions, we are then behoved to pose this question: how can these concepts of God be philosophically characterized?  What divine properties does any given tradition ascribe to its divinity? Can this divinity be described in a consistent way? Or is it a contradictory concept? If the concept is contradictory, how would this affect its intelligibility? Does any of those concepts of God have some advantage over traditional philosophical accounts of God? How do they relate to well-known accounts of God, such as those of classical theism, pantheism, panentheism, process theism, open theism, etc.? And what are the difficulties peculiar to these Indian concepts of God? 

 

This special issue of Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions will address these questions and approach the concept of God in Indian religions from a contemporary philosophical perspective. We invite submissions of papers on general philosophical topics related to Indian religions and the concept of God, including but not restricted to philosophical approaches to the following themes:

  • God in Indian religious traditions.

  • Divine attributes and Indian concepts of divinity.

  • Indian concepts of divinity vs. western concepts of God.

  • Atheistic (or agnostic) arguments against the coherence of Indian concepts of God;
  • Vaiṣṇavism/Śaivism/Śaktism: monotheistic, panentheistic or what? 

  • Language and God in Indian traditions.

  • Divinity and Hindu deities.

  • Relation of the divine with the world: creation and difference/non-difference.

  • Consciousness and Indian concepts of divinity: cosmopsyshism, panenpsychism or what?

 

Papers should be submitted through Sophia's Editorial Manager, specifying that they are being submitted to the special issue on Indian Religions and the Concept of God, and obey Sophia's submission guidelines. Submitted papers will go through a double-blind peer-review process. The deadline for submission is November 30, 2022. 

 

The special issue will be guest-edited by Ricardo Silvestre, Alan Herbert and Purushottama Bilimoria. It is scheduled to be launched in the beginning of 2024. There will be an online conference on March 2023 related to the special issue. Authors who want to make sure that the theme of their papers fit into the special issue might send an extended abstract (no more than 900 words) to ricardoss@ufcg.edu.br or alan@ochs.org.uk

 

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.

 

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 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 download the program of the workshop.  

Speakers

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Graham Oppy

Monash University (Australia)

Thinking about God

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Gavin Flood

University of Oxford (UK)

Pāñcarātras

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Angelika Malinar

University of Zurich (Switzerland)

Mahābhārata

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Shrinivasa Varakhedi

Central Sanskrit University (India)

Madhva Tradition

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Kenneth R. Valpey

Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (UK)

Swami Bhaktivedanta and the HKM

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Rebecca Chan

San José State University (USA)

Philosophical Issues with the Concept of God

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Edwin Francis Bryant

Rutgers University (USA)

Bhagavata Purāṇa

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Suganya Anandakichenin

University of Hamburg (Germany)

The Ālvārs

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Swami Medhananda

Ramakrishna Institute of Moral and Spiritual Education (India)

Ramakrishna and the RKM

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Benedikt Göcke

Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany)

Varieties of Theism

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Ricardo Sousa Silvestre

Federal University of Campina Grande (Brazil)

Bhavagad Gītā

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Frederick M. Smith

University of Iowa (USA)

Vallabha Tradition

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Alan Herbert

Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (UK)

Caitanya Tradition and Bhavagad Gītā

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Vijay Ramnarace 

Georgetown University (USA)

Nimbārka Sampradāya

Organizational Committee:

  • 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)

The workshop is supported (in addition to the project sponsors) by:

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GOD & VAIṢṆAVISM 

May 23-26, 2022, 3pm CEST

Click here to watch the recorded sessions

Click here to download the program

 
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Ricardo Sousa Silvestre

Federal University of Campina Grande (Brazil)

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

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Alan C. Herbert

Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (UK)

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Benedikt Paul Göcke

Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany)

CO-INVESTIGATOR

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Francisco de Assis Mariano

University of Missouri-Columbia (USA)

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Gabriel Reis de Oliveira

Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil)

The Project Team

Project Publications

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.

 

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.   

 

Journal Special Issue There will be a special issue of Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions on Indian religions and the concept of God.

 
 

Sponsorship