Regional Bhakti Traditions

Who’s In, Who’s Out?

Who’s In, Who’s Out

Who’s In, Who’s Out

150 150 Regional Bhakti Scholars Network

organized by Gil Ben-Herut and Jon Keune

Madison South Asia Conference - Oct 27, 2015

This year’s RBSN symposium explores a key rhetorical motif – the religious Other and acts of othering. Who are the Others of regional bhakti traditions’ saints and poets, how do they position themselves over against Others, and how do these Others vary from region to region?  Are there broad patterns in how sociopolitical contexts raise the stakes of making such judgments and marking boundaries? How are Others actually represented (through text, performance, ritual, etc.) and are these representations mirrored in sources outside what we identify as associated with “bhakti”? And what discursive strategies are employed in the process of othering?

Exploring such questions within this framework has multiple benefits.  The diversity of South Asian devotional traditions makes them an especially rich source for examining social and religious fault lines across India, thereby furthering our understanding of how communalism and sectarianism form. An intentionally multi-regional and multi-linguistic analysis of “who is out” of the bhakti fold can illuminate trends, interests, and motivations for demarcating “who is in” within the rubric of devotionalism.  Do all bhakti traditions similarly constitute their own identities by setting themselves off against explicitly Others? Can we find patterns in understanding what constitutes a “good” bhakta and thus an identifiable core of bhakti, or are the various constructions too disparate from each other?

Two important categories within the conversation of the bhakta’s Other: so-called “orthodox” Hinduism, most often represented by figurations of the Brahmin, and non-bhakti competitors (yogis, tantrikas, village goddess followers, etc.), as well as “non-Hindus” entirely (Jains, Muslims, etc.).   How much do these categories retroject contemporary boundary sensibilities onto a past that had different social contours and typologies of alterity? This symposium reconsiders inherited, often over-simplified notions of the bhakta’s Other and unmask processes of representation that involve adoption, appropriation, and rejection of different social and religious agents. Drawing on the diverse expertise of the RBSN members and other participants, this symposium enables a broad yet context-specific and nuanced discussion that will deepen understanding of the South Asian religious landscape.

7:30 – 8:30

Light Breakfast

8:30 – 8:45

Welcome and Thematic Introduction

8:45 – 10:15

Pulling Others In

Rich Freeman
Fraught Constituencies: Coercion and Inclusion in Kerala Bhakti

Harshita Kamath Mruthinti
Kshetrayya: The Outsider

Dušan Deák
Devotion and the Performance of Belonging: Lineage Strategies Among the Descendants of Sant Śekh Mahaṃmad Śrīgondekar

Jon Keune
Playing with Boundaries: The Atypical Bhaktas of Eknath’s Allegorical Poetry

10:15 – 10:30

Coffee Break

10:30 – 12:15

Competition and Separation I

Christian Novetzke
Free Market Bhakti: Competition and Exclusion in the Formation of the Mahanubhav and Varkari Communities

Gil Ben-Herut
Arguing with Vaiṣṇavas, Annihilating Jains: Two Religious Others in Early Kannada Śivabhakti Hagiographies

Patton Burchett
Competition, Interlogue, and Identity among the Bhaktas, Sufis, and Yogis in Early Modern North India

Elaine Craddock
Kali Moves Into Tamil Country

12:15 – 1:45


1:45 – 3:30

Competition and Separation II

Anne Monius
A Caste of Gluttons Plucking Hair from Their Heads: The Fate of Jains as Religious ‘Other’ in Tamil Śaiva Literature

Jeremy Morse
The Guru-bhakti of the Datta Saṃpradāya and Its Many “Others”

Philip Lutgendorf
Who are the Damned (in the Mānas Lake of Tulsīdās)?

Divya Cherian
Fall from Grace? Untouchables and Hindus in Eighteenth-Century Marwa

3:00 ‐ 3:30

Session IV: Transmitting Bhakti Through Performance

Aks and Lakshmi
Electronic Bhakti Music: Contemporizing North Indian Devotional Poetry

3:30 – 3: 45

Coffee Break

3:45 – 4:45

Reckoning Difference

Anand Venkatkrishnan
Atheists in Potholes: Mimamsakas Debate the Bhaktimarga

Velcheru Narayana Rao
Was It Ever a Revolt? The Beginning and End of Bhakti

4:45 – 5:30

Open Discussion

5:30 – 6:30

Madison South Asia All‐conference Reception

Madison Ballroom



540 State Street