Sensing Bhakti

Sensing Bhakti

Sensing Bhakti

150 150 Regional Bhakti Scholars Network

organized by Bhakti Mamtora and Iva Patel

Madison South Asia Conference - Oct 19, 2022

This symposium focuses on the aspired, actualized, and theorized sensations resulting from intentional uses of senses. The symposium will investigate the connections among sensory interactions, the sacred and material worlds, and resultant sensations – whether involuntarily felt or intentionally fostered. How and why are such connections created, reinforced, recreated, or dissolved? Examining the role of sensory impairment and sensory imagination within devotional contexts, the symposium discusses the creative functions of sensations in building desired devotional relations.

Past RBSN symposia have discussed various methodologies to study bhakti as a lived phenomenon, including disciplinary modes of assessing bhakti, technologies of publishing bhakti, and “visuality” as a lens to examine new forms and new social contexts of bhakti. Through this year’s symposium, we expand on these productive conversations to attend to the making of realities, affective and conceptual, through sensory engagements. We highlight regional and sectarian articulations of a bhakti sensorium; we discuss archives of exemplary and desired sensations; and we analyze tools of sensing.

“Sensing,” broadly construed, involves literary depictions and practices of engaging and knowing through the senses, including the mind. We situate senses at intersections–of materiality and cognition, gender and emotion, caste and belonging, synesthetic connections and desired devotional relations–to attend to the lived realities of devotion. By bringing in scholars who cover diverse regions, languages, and tradition, we foster cross-regional and inter-linguistic conversations on sensing, sensations, and related cognitive dimensions of bhakti.

7:30 – 8:30

All Conference Coffee/Tea

8:30 – 8:45

Symposium Meet and Greet

8:45 – 9:00

 Symposium Opening Remarks

Bhakti Mamtora & Iva Patel

9:00 – 10:15

Theme: Sensing Bhakti

Tyler Williams, University of Chicago
The Scent of Liberation: Scent and Epistemology in Sant Devotion

Nancy Martin, Chapman University
The Taste and Scent, Sight, and Sound of Bhakti: Intersubjective Sensual Encounter with Divine Presence

Aalekhya Malladi, Emory University
When God Plays Hide and Seek: Affective and Ascetic Bhakti in a Telugu Yaksagana

10:15 – 10:30

All Conference Break 

10:30 – 12:10

Theme: Cultivating Sensations

Jack Hawley,Barnard College,  Columbia University
Unseeing Eyes, but Cymbals in His Hands.

Heidi Pauwels, University of Washington
Lovers Celebrating Lovers: Bhakti, Sensuality, and Synesthesia in Song and Image in Kishangarh

Iva Patel, Augsburg University
Sensations Without Sensing: Making the Absent Present through Cognitive Actions in Swaminarayan Devotion

12:15 – 1:45


1:45 – 3:30

Theme: Curated Sensations

Allan Life, UNC Chapel Hill
Maharani Jamnabai: Tradition and Innovation in a Photograph from Baroda

Amy Ruth-Holt, Independent Scholar
Sensational Poetics: The Modern Contextualities of Tiruvalluvar’s Tirukurral

Aarti Patel, Syracuse University
Sensory Engagement Within Domestic Religiosity

3:30 – 3: 45

All Conference Break

3:45 – 5:15

Theme: Mass Production and Circulation of Bhakti Images 

Karen Pechilis, Drew University
Revisiting the Sacred and the Sensual in Women’s Bhakti Poetry

Leah Comeau, University of the Sciences
Fresh Technologies: Ephemeral Offerings, and When to Sense the Sacred

Hanna Kim, Adelphi University
Sensing the BAPS Swaminarayan Guru: On Somatic Ways of Knowing or Overcoming Ethnographic Incommensurables in Bhakti Studies

Afsar Mohammed, University of Pennsylvania 
The Poetics of Touch: Telugu Sufi Narratives and the Question of Untouchability

5:15 – 5:30

Concluding reflections and discussion