Modes of Bhakti

Approaching Bhakti through Cross-disciplinary Conversation

Modes of Bhakti

Modes of Bhakti

150 150 Regional Bhakti Scholars Network

organized by Archana Venkatesan and Davesh Soneji

Madison South Asia Conference - Oct 26, 2017

Last year, we experimented with a collaborative format that encouraged cross-regional, inter-linguistic and cross-religious dialog. The robust conversations that emerged helped us rethink the protean boundaries of bhakti as a category of analysis, paying particular attention to the tension between the ways bhakti is used emically, and how it is deployed in scholarly discussions of the subject. Equally, the role of social networks and institutions in formulating what constitutes bhakti also emerged as a dominant theme across the papers. This year’s symposium builds on the success of the collaborative format, but also offers a corrective to the over-reliance on textual materials as the primary resource in the study of bhakti. This year’s gathering invites a more sustained and informed engagement with bhakti along interdisciplinary lines, to bring art-historical and performative dimensions into dialogue with textual and historical studies of bhakti. This year’s theme encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration on bhakti to help us tackle not only what constitutes bhakti, but how it might be shaped in different medial forms.

Our program involves five collaborative, interdisciplinary teams. A four member team unpacks the relationship between yoga and bhakti using a variety of sources — textual, performative and historical — from four different linguistic and regional bhakti traditions from Maharashtra and North-central India. Another team examines cross regional representations of “sainthood” across popular cultural forms including, dance, theater, and cinema. Two collaborators focus on the Vallabha and Swaminarayan traditions to map the relationship of word, ritual, and musical performance. Conversations between two scholars of Islamic devotional literature in Telugu and Tamil demonstrate the negotiations, adaptations of different linguistic and cultural streams under the umbrella of bhakti. Our last group of scholars draw on inscriptional sources and ritual activity to focus on the South Indian temple as a site of bhakti religiosity.

The interdisciplinary, cross-regional theme of this symposium encourages adventurous conversations about bhakti, and is an important intervention in the text-heavy focus of bhakti studies. Moreover, this year’s symposium will include several new scholarly voices in bhakti studies, and will afford them the opportunity to present their research in the bhakti symposium for the first time. These experimental partnerships all revolve around the concerns that invigorate the RBSN: to understand what “bhakti” signifies in various contexts and the roles it has played in social history, literature, and politics.

8:30 – 9:00

Meet and Greet

9:00 – 9:10

Opening Remarks
Jon Keune: RBSN Update
Davesh Soneji and Archana Venkatesan: Modes of Bhakti

9:15 – 10:00

Tamil Temples in South India

Leslie Orr and Anna Seastrand
On the inscription and mural paintings of the Sri Vaikuntham Temple, Tirunelveli District

10:05 – 10:50

Hagiography of our Time

Jeff Brackett and Nancy M. Martin
On Tuka and Mira on Page, Stage and Screen

10:55 – 11:40

Performing Bhakti in Gujarat

Yogi Trivedi and Priya Kothari
On Katha and Kirthan, Vallabha and Swaminarayan

11:45 – 11:50

Short Discussion

12:15 – 1:30


1:45 – 2:45

Bhakti and Women’s Voices

Karen Pechilis, Amy-Ruth Holt, Afsar Mohammad
On Karaikkal Ammaiyar, Jayalalithaa and Fatima

2:50 – 4:00

The Yoga of Bhakti

Linda Hess, Christian Novetzke, Daniel Gold, Patton Burchett
On the Yoga of Bhakti and the Bhakti of Yoga

4:00 – 4:10

Short Break

4:10 – 5:15

Open Discussion


Madison South Asia All‐conference Reception

Madison Ballroom



540 State Street