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Theses Doctoral

Mīmāṃsā, Vedānta, and the Bhakti Movement

Venkatkrishnan, Anand

This dissertation concerns the reception history of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (BhP), an influential Hindu scripture, among Sanskrit intellectuals who lived between the 13th and 18th centuries CE. The BhP is most widely recognized for its celebration of bhakti, or religious devotion to an embodied god, through its narrative, didactic, and philosophical treatment of the god Kṛṣṇa. Composed in Sanskrit, the BhP was also closely connected to popular traditions of vernacular poetry and song, collectively known as the “bhakti movement.” I study the rise to prominence of this text-tradition by examining its impact on two important systems of Sanskrit scriptural interpretation: Mīmāṃsā and Advaita Vedānta. I situate the shifting discursive registers of these hermeneutical traditions in particular social contexts, paying special attention to the lives and careers of scholars in the academic center of Banaras in early modern north India. I also investigate how Sanskrit discourse about the BhP reveals intersections between popular religious movements and elite scholarly pedagogy. The thesis contributes to a number of scholarly fields, each wider than the previous. First, it provides a fuller picture of how particular Sanskrit systems of knowledge experienced change in precolonial India. Second, it attempts to understand the challenges that bhakti, qua the public expression of personal devotion, posed to Sanskrit intellectuals. Third, it revisits certain binaries and narratives in the historiography of Indian religion and philosophy. Fourth, it incorporates the insights of intellectual and social history into the study of the premodern non-West. Finally, it helps make a space for intellectual history within religious studies, and for religion among intellectual historians.

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Academic Units
Religion
Thesis Advisors
Hawley, John Stratton
Pollock, Sheldon
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
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