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Volume Three - Issue Three

3 October 2010


Gender and Mysticism in Hindu Studies: Hindu and Christian Religious Women Recovered ֠Agency and Power as Resistance?

Ella Johnson

In her book, Power, Gender, and Christian Mysticism, Grace Jantzen argues that mysticism cannot be defined because it is a social construction, which differs according to time and place, and is embroiled in issues of gendered struggles for power authority. Recounting the words and stories of Christian mediaeval women ֠especially the so-called mystics ֠Jantzen contends that their claims to direct accessibility to God challenged other dominant patriarchal forms of religious authority and threatened male hierarchical control in church and society. Consequently, privileged men, with the power to delimit what and who qualifies as mystical, had to either deny that these women were actually mystics or domesticate what they said about their religious experiences, if it countered their own definition of mysticism. ?Jantzen challenges э those who seek for justice today to become aware of such ?discourses of power, and to Ҳeclaim the dangerous memories of mystical writers, especially women,Ҡby returning to their actual words, ҷhich enable our discourses of resistance.ҠFor Jantzen, this work challenges a new kind of domestication and ?privatisation of religious experience that stereotypes women.1 To reappraise Power, Gender, and Christian Mysticism in the light of female Hindu traditions, as the authors contributing to this journal issue have done, thus seems to be a task the late Jantzen, herself, would deem worthwhile and advantageous. It is a privilege to participate in this project by responding to the foregoing articles. The work here, by Michelle Voss Roberts, Antoinette E. DeNapoli, Tracy Sayuki Tiemeier, and David Buchta, suggests that there is cross-cultural validity to ?Jantzen's hypothesis: the construction of mysticism throughout history has been related to gendered power struggles. Studying Lalleswari, Roberts points to four gendered issues of power ֠namely, the notion of spiritual authority as masculine, the exclusion of women from authoritative positions ō


Power, Gender, and the Classification of a Kashmir Śaiva 'Mystic'

Michelle Voss Roberts

The hermeneutic of suspicion Grace Jantzen applies to the gendered construction of Christian 'mysticism' is a useful lens for understanding the religious authority attributed to Lalleśwarī of Kashmir. In the hagiographies and hagiographical scholarship about Lalleśwarī, three strands run parallel to Jantzen's genealogy: the exclusion of women from the institutions of religious authority, the coding of religious authority as masculine, and the association of women with the erotic. The two narratives intersect in the 20th century, when Lalleśwarī's claim to spiritual authority through her experience of 'the void' of Śiva-consciousness is cemented through appeal to western (particularly Jamesian) discourse on mysticism as an ineffable subjective state of union. At␣each juncture, however, the evidence of Lalleśwarī's vaakhs pushes against her interpreters' assumptions to suggest something of her own authorising strategies.

'Crossing Over the Ocean of Existence': Performing 'Mysticism' and Exerting Power by Female Sādhus in Rajasthan

Antoinette E. DeNapoli

Grace Jantzen's exploration of the genealogy of Western mysticism illuminates the ways in which relations of power and gender have shaped the production of discourse about 'mysticism.' Jantzen's work evokes questions of how mysticism is constructed in the Hindu traditions and how gender and power interface in its production. If there is any term that functions like mysticism it is nirguṇī bhakti for female sādhus in Rajasthan. There are several features that make these terms analogous and invite comparison: a focus on divine visions, love, divine union, and liberation. The case of the female sādhus, however, also challenges Jantzen's thesis about the relationship between gender and power in Christian-based genealogies of mysticism. The female sādhus' constructions of nirguṇī bhakti through their everyday renunciant practices suggest that power may also be gendered female. Through analysis of their performances of devotional songs and personal narratives, this article demonstrates how Rajasthani female sādhus exert agency in the construction of nirguṇī bhakti as a category of religious experience that carries authority in the male-dominated traditions of Hindu renunciation. Moreover, it suggests a model for theorising about gendered agency and power in traditions of Christian mysticism.

Engendering the 'Mysticism' of the Ālvārs

Tracy Sayuki Tiemeier

This essay explores the relationship between gender, power, and mysticism through an examination of the Tamil Vaiṣṇava Ālvārs and how two scholars, Friedhelm Hardy and S.M. Srinivasa Chari, interrelate Ālvār mysticism, female voice, and the one female Ālvār, Āṇṭāḷ. Although both Hardy and Chari define Ālvār mysticism through female voice and uphold Āṇṭāḷ as mystic par excellence, they miss important nuances of Āṇṭāḷ's poetry that radicalise female voice and frustrate gendered expectations. Āṇṭāḷ's mysticism proves to be socially and theologically subversive, laying claim to authority even over the divine.

Gārgī Vācaknavī as an Honorary Male: An Eighteenth Century Reception of an Upaniṣadic Female Sage

David Buchta

This paper seeks to contribute to recent scholarship about the figure of Gārgī Vācaknavī in Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad by looking beyond the primary narrative in the Upaniṣad to issues of reception of the story. In particular, the paper focuses on a discussion in the 18th century commentary on Vedānta-sūtras (3.4.36–43) by Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa, his Govinda-bhāṣya. There, Baladeva presents Gārgī as exemplifying the highest level of eligibility for knowledge of Brahman, above even Yājñavalkya, her interlocutor in Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad. The paper specifically addresses this status attributed to Gārgī in light of the scholarship on female Christian mystics by Grace Jantzen, asking to what degree Jantzen's theory that female mystics are generally accorded authoritative status only as 'honorary males' is applicable to Baladeva's statements about Gārgī.1

Book Reviews

Stuart Ray Sarbacker

Yoga and the Luminous: Patañjali's Spiritual Path to Freedom. By Christopher Key Chapple.

Yoga and the Luminous: Patañjali's Spiritual Path to Freedom. By Christopher Key Chapple. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0-7914-7475-4: (hardcover); ISBN-13: 978-0-7914-7476-1 (paperback), XV + 301. $74.50 (hardcover); $21.95 (paperback).

Chris Chapple's Yoga and the Luminous: Patañjali's Spiritual Path to Freedom is a survey of the work of one of the most influential contemporary scholars of yoga in the United States. The work brings together a number of Chapple's important earlier contributions to the study of yoga with a range of new material. Chapple indicates that the work is intended to forward a literacy about yoga traditions, especially for American and European practitioners of yoga that lack the philosophical background necessary to contextualise their practices (16). He notes that his own perspective on yoga is the product of decades of committed practice as well as academic study of the philosophy of yoga (X–XI). Chapple's ability to navigate the worlds of both academic theory and contemporary practice is the hallmark of the work, and a basis for his assertion that the theory and practice of yoga has a place in promoting pluralism, ecological sensibility, and social justice in our contemporary world. Chapple's work begins with an overview of yoga traditions followed by four ?sections, entitled 'The Practice of Yoga,' 'Yoga and Liberation,' 'Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra,' and 'Interpreting Yoga.' Chapple frames his study of yoga within the context of the global dissemination of yoga out of modern Hindu traditions, while noting yoga's rootedness in Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh traditions as well. He also focuses on the 'pluralist' aspect of yoga, and traditional perspectives on this point are ?illustrated by referencing the …

David Brick

The Spirit of Hindu Law. By Donald R. Davis, Jr.

The Spirit of Hindu Law. By Donald R. Davis Jr.. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-521-87704-6 (hardback), xi + 194. $85.00.

Donald Davis is one of just a few living scholars that possess not only a genuine expertise in the complex tradition of Hindu jurisprudence known as Dharmaśāstra, but also a thorough command of the scholarly literature written in the fields of religious and legal studies. In The Spirit of Hindu Law, he skilfully brings together his knowledge in these three areas to produce a book that is ambitiously broad in scope, yet concise, generally clear in its presentation, and impressively accurate in its use of difficult primary sources. Davis assumes little prior knowledge of either Indology or the more theoretical secondary literature upon which he draws. Thus, a wide of array scholars should find his work both readily accessible and useful for research and teaching purposes (although for some, the price may be prohibitively expensive). Moreover, those sceptical about the relevance of Hindu jurisprudence to the more general studies of Hinduism, religion, and law may find themselves swayed by the author's compelling argument that however esoteric they may appear, Dharmaśāstra materials, in fact, have much to contribute to larger academic discussions on these subjects (see especially pp. 10–23). Despite the breadth of its intended audience, however, The Spirit of Hindu Law cannot be properly characterised as a general introduction to Hindu law/Dharmaśāstra. Instead, it is essentially an extended essay on what …

Susan Prill

Religion and Public Memory: A Cultural History of Saint Namdev in India. By Christian Lee Novetzke.

Religion and Public Memory: A Cultural History of Saint Namdev in India. By Christian Lee Novetzke. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-231-14184-0 (cloth), xxii + 336. $55.00/£38.00.

Christian Novetzke's book Religion and Public Memory: A Cultural History of Saint ?Namdev in India makes a significant contribution to scholarship on bhakti in India, but should also appeal more broadly to those interested in sainthood, in the ways in which history and religion interact, and in the study of performance. The subject of the study, the fourteenth century Sant Namdev, is revered by a number of ?different communities in Maharashtra and throughout North India (most notably in Punjab). He is generally agreed to have been a Maharashtrian devotee of Vishnu as Vitthal, and to have composed and sung poems in praise of Vitthal in both ?Marathi and Hindi. Many traditional biographies suggest that Namdev travelled throughout large parts of India, spreading bhakti as he went. Novetzke's investigation of Namdev is grounded in the idea of 'public memory,' a term which he employs to refer to the ways in which Namdev has been imagined by the …

Emilia Bachrach

Singing Krishna: Sound Becomes Sight in Paramānand's Poetry. By Whitney A. Sanford.

Singing Krishna: Sound Becomes Sight in Paramānand's Poetry. ByWhitney A. Sanford. Albany: Sate University of New York, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-7914-7395-5, ix, 207. $65.00 (cloth); $19.95 (paper).

The central goal of Sanford's book is to understand how hearing the devotional Braj␣Bhāṣā lyrics of the sixteenth century poet Paramānand 'in context' serves as a 'portal between this world and Krishna's divine world' (p. 9). As such, Sanford leads the reader through the daily and annual cycles of poetry that 'depict Krishna's life and that shape devotees' lives in a manner that replicates the cycles that devotees hear in the poetry' (p. 1). By repeatedly hearing the poetry through prescribed ritual cycles, the devotee becomes an 'ideal listener,' or connoisseur, and is able to experience what Sanford calls 'synaesthesia – confusion of the senses,' which eventually leads to 'seeing Krishna.' 'The devotee sees through the ephemeral world to Krishna's world, and therein lies the significance of Paramānand's poetry' (p. 188). Each chapter unfolds around a description of several of Paramānand's poems in English translation. Over 100 translated poems appear in the book, which are apparently based on …

Kamala Visweswaran

Rebels, Wives, Saints: Designing Selves and Nations in Colonial Times. By Tanika Sarkar.

Rebels, Wives, Saints: Designing Selves and Nations in Colonial Times. By Tanika Sarkar. Calcutta: Seagull Press, 2009. ISBN: 9781906497293 (cloth). 356. $29.00.

Much of the contemporary discussion about Hinduism turns repeatedly to the question of Vedic origins, due in part, to the resurgence of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. Tanika Sarkar's latest collection of essays does not stage this question but addresses it obliquely, focusing instead on the diverse ways Hinduism was (re)made in the colonial encounter and the different political ends to which its practices were put over the course of Bengal's long nineteenth century. Sarkar's dynamic earlier collection of essays, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation (Indiana University Press, 2001) productively narrated the links between nineteenth century Hindu revivalism and contemporary Hindu nationalism. Rebels, Wives, and Saints picks up on this theme, but also attempts the more complex task of detailing the relationships between Hindu social reform and changing notions of selfhood, community, and nation. Sarkar here accomplishes a fine balancing act, holding an array of Hindu social reform and religious movements in tension with their cross-cultural infusions and myriad political appropriations. Half of the essays in this invaluable collection trace the vicissitudes of bhakti devotionalism through community, caste, linguistic, literary, …

Cynthia Ann Humes

Transcendent in America: Hindu Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. By Lola Williamson

Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. By Lola Williamson. New York: New York University Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-8147-9450-0 (paper); ISBN: 978-0-8147-9449-4 (cloth), pp. 272. $23.00 (paper); $75.00 (cloth).

In Transcendent in America, Lola Williamson argues that a new hybrid form of ?religion has developed in the United States over the past century that constitutes a discrete category of religious practice. This distinct and identifiable form of new religion is the rise of Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements (HIMMS), which ?Williamson explains arose in America around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries and which are qualitatively different from the religion practised by ?people who have been raised in a tradition in which the rituals, the foods, the prayers, and the ethics of Hinduism are second nature. Rather, HIMMs are those that wear the garb of Hinduism, but the Western traditions of individualism and rationalism also influence the style and ethos of these movements (p. 4). In part one of three sections of the book, Williamson provides background for the reader. She notes that she is aware of the dangers of generalising, and that she sees the category of HIMMs as a heuristic one; she purposely glosses over some of the differences among individual movements, and although she acknowledges that followers of a particular HIMM may feel little in common with followers of other HIMMs, 'just as differences abound within Hinduism (or Christianity or Islam, etc.), a theoretical construct called "Hinduism" is still possible, and just as there are differences between various HIMMs, a construct called "Hindu-inspired meditation movements" is …