150 150 Regional Bhakti Scholars Network

organized by Amanda Lucia and Jon Keune

Madison South Asia Conference - Oct 18, 2023

This symposium seeks to uncover the latent principles that engender both the positive and negative analytics that the term deploys. First, the term transgression is often used with a positive valence in bhakti scholarship, wherein it implies value judgments suggesting that transgressions of traditional Hindu caste and gender hierarchies in pursuit of greater equality are – and should be – viewed in a positive light. In the case in many scholarly works on bhakti, most particularly those focused on caste and gender, bhakti poets, gurus, temples, and traditions are often unreflexively celebrated for their transgressive contestations and refusals of “traditional” structures of Hindu hierarchy with the goal of greater inclusivity. Second, in the negative valence, the term transgression tends to be used in relation to the behaviors of bhaktas that are deemed either adharmic (meat eating, alcohol drinking, caste violations, sexual practices, and so on) or illegal (murder, rape, fraud, tax evasion, immigration violations, prostitution, embezzlement, and so on). These transgressions are often marked by criminality and as such are also, by definition, socially and historically constructed and the result of political processes defined by those with social influence and juridical power.

The symposium provides an arena in which to think critically about the term “transgression” and the broader lexicon in which it is embedded. It seeks to locate and interrogate exercises in cultural evaluation, and to question the concept of “value neutrality” and how value judgments are deployed with intention, awareness, care, and critical self-reflexivity. In hosting this pre-conference event, the co-coordinators aim to unearth the latent and historically contingent ideologies that inform both the positive and negative valences of the notion of “transgression,” and in so doing reveal the ways that scholars unwittingly reassert Brahmanical dominance as idealized tradition and Anglo-European liberalism as the ethical norm.

7:30 – 8:30

All Conference Coffee/Tea

8:30 – 8:45

Symposium Opening Remarks

Amanda Lucia & Jon Keune

8:45 – 9:00

Introductions of Participants

9:00 – 10:15

Theme: When Transgression Defines Theology

Gil Ben-Herut, University of South Florida (virtual)
Beyond Good and Evil: Transgression in Early Kannada Śivabhakti

Amanda Lucia, University of California-Riverside
Transgression in the Eye of the Beholder: Revisiting the Maharaj Libel Case of 1862

Jack Hawley, Barnard College/Columbia University
Treasuring Transgression

10:15 – 10:30

All Conference Break 

10:30 – 12:15

Theme: Transgression and the Body

Sravani Kanamarlapudi, University of Texas-Austin (virtual)
Multiple Receptions of a Tribal Hunter’s “Sacrilegious” Devotion

Amy-Ruth Holt, Independent Scholar
Beyond the Periya Purana: Imaging the Transgressive Bodies of Modern Tamil Politics

Madhuri Deshmukh, Oakton College
Figural Transgressions and the Poetics of Exile: Songs of Bhakti on the Grind-Mill

12:15 – 1:45


1:45 – 3:30

Theme: Social and Political Mobilizations of Transgression

Patton Burchett, The College of William and Mary
The Figure of the Yogi as Site of Transgression: Authenticity, Rationality, and Spectacle in India, Britain, & America, c. 1850-1930

Sushumna Kannan, Independent Scholar
Nuances of Transgression in Bhakti

Tulasi Srinivas, Emerson College (virtual)
Rupturing the Social Contract of the Ontology of Belief: Ethnographic Transgressions in the Field

3:30 – 3: 45

All Conference Break

3:45 – 5:00

Theme: When Transgression Defines Religious Community

Andrew Kunze, The University of Chicago
Transgressing the Transgressors?: Two Swaminarayan Schisms and Sectarian Narratives of Reform

Janani Mandayam Comar, University of Toronto
“Even being born lowly is enough”: Transgressive behaviors and modern Tamil Śaiva ethics in the Nataṉār Carittira Kīrttaṉaikaḷ

Jon Keune, Michigan State University
Entangled Transgressions: Ganesh Maharaj Bhabutkar and the Ajāt Samāj’s Anti-Caste Movement (1920-present)

5:00 – 5:30

Concluding reflections and discussion