Special Issue "Religious Experience in the Hindu Tradition"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 January 2019)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. June McDaniel

Dept. of Religious Studies, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC 29424, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: History of Religions, Mysticism, Hinduism, Bengali Shaktism, Tantra, Bhakti, Yoga, folklore, gender and women’s studies, ritual studies, anthropology of religion

Special Issue Information

This issue would explore religious experience in a variety of Hindu traditions, including Vedanta, Yoga, Sant Mat, Nirguna bhakti, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Shaivism, Tantra and Folk Religion. There have been books that focused on specific regional and textual forms of Hinduism, but we have not had any books that cover the wide range of religious experiences in Hindu religion and the ways that they are understood. This can give scholars and students an idea of how Hinduism is a living tradition, and describe the ways that Hindu religious ideas impact the lives of modern practitioners.

Dear Colleagues,

The focus of this issue is religious experience in Hinduism. This religion has some of the most vivid and varied forms of mystical, yogic and devotional experiences that can be found in world religions, but they have never been organized into a single volume that includes living practitioners.

Its scope would be the various forms of Hinduism in India, and would include both modern and historical data.

Its purpose is to enrich scholarly understanding of an important aspect of life in India, including not just official beliefs in Hinduism, but also the experiences of its practitioners. It could mix together ancient and modern religious worlds, and include anthropological data as well and philosophical and theological ideas.

There is currently no literature that studies comparative forms of religious experience in India. Most books that address the topic of religious experience are historical and literary, examining data from saint biographies, statements by sectarian authorities, and the development of devotional movements in specific regions of India. In this issue, we add to this by including the experiences of living practitioners in a variety of Hindu traditions. This can show the ways that religions unite ideas from past and present, and the ways that religion plays a part in the lived experience of believers. 

Prof. Dr. June McDaniel
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • Hinduism
  • India
  • religious experience
  • bhava
  • mahabhava
  • possession trance
  • spiritual song
  • visualization
  • meditation
  • contemplation
  • deities
  • sacred sound
  • divine love
  • revelation
  • worship
  • inspiration

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Religious Experience, Hindu Pluralism, and Hope: Anubhava in the Tradition of Sri Ramakrishna
Religions 2019, 10(3), 210; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030210
Received: 2 February 2019 / Revised: 6 March 2019 / Accepted: 15 March 2019 / Published: 19 March 2019
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Abstract
The pluralistic turn in modern Hindu thought corresponds with the rise of an emphasis on direct experience of divine realities in this tradition. Both pluralism and a focus on experience have precedents in premodern Hindu traditions, but have become especially prominent in modern [...] Read more.
The pluralistic turn in modern Hindu thought corresponds with the rise of an emphasis on direct experience of divine realities in this tradition. Both pluralism and a focus on experience have precedents in premodern Hindu traditions, but have become especially prominent in modern Hinduism. The paradigmatic example in the modern period of a religious subject embarking upon a pluralistic quest for direct experience of ultimate reality as mediated through multiple religious traditions is the nineteenth century Bengali sage, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836–1886), whose most famous disciple, Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) played a prominent role in the promotion of the idea of Hinduism as largely defined by a religious pluralism paired with an emphasis on direct experience. The focus in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda on Brahman as a universal reality available, at least in principle, to being experienced by anyone, and interpreted using the categories of the experiencing subject’s religion or culture, gives rise to a corresponding pluralism: a move towards seeing many religions and philosophies as conducive to the experience of a shared ultimate reality. This paper will analyze the theme of experience in the thought of these two figures, and other figures who are representative of this broad trend in modern Hindu thought, as well as in conversation with recent academic philosophers and theorists of religious experience, John Hick and William Alston. It will also argue that aspects of Hinduism, such as pluralism and an emphasis on direct experience, that are often termed as ‘Neo-Vedantic’ or ‘Neo-Hindu’ are not simply modern constructs, as these terms seem to suggest, but are reflective of much older trends in Hindu thought that become central themes in the thought of key Hindu figures in the modern period. Finally, it shall be argued that a pluralistic approach to the diversity of religions, and of worldviews more generally, is to be commended as an approach more conducive to human survival than the current global proliferation of ethno-nationalisms. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Experience in the Hindu Tradition)
Open AccessArticle Sprouts of the Body, Sprouts of the Field: Identification of the Goddess with Poxes in South India
Religions 2019, 10(3), 147; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030147
Received: 1 January 2019 / Revised: 17 February 2019 / Accepted: 22 February 2019 / Published: 27 February 2019
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Abstract
In south India, when a person is afflicted with poxes of any variety, it is believed that the goddess Mariyamman has “arrived” in the person. The Tamil term “ammai” means pustules or “pearls” of poxes as well as mother/goddess. Indigenous discourses, [...] Read more.
In south India, when a person is afflicted with poxes of any variety, it is believed that the goddess Mariyamman has “arrived” in the person. The Tamil term “ammai” means pustules or “pearls” of poxes as well as mother/goddess. Indigenous discourses, gleaned from resources, such as songs and narratives, facilitate our interrogation of the Hindu “religious experience” that underscores the immanent and eminent manifestations of the deity and the dimension of benevolence associated with pox-affliction. Asking what might be the triggering conditions for identifying the pox-afflicted body as the goddess, I problematize the prevalent scholarly characterization of such affliction in terms of “possession” of a body, taken as a “mute facticity,” by an external agent, namely, the goddess. Drawing from ethnographic sources and classical Tamil texts, I argue that the immanent identification of the body as the goddess and conceptualization of her sovereign authority over the body during affliction are facilitated by an imagistic relationship of the afflicted body with an agricultural field, which is conventionally regarded as feminine in the Tamil context. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Experience in the Hindu Tradition)
Open AccessArticle Saints, Hagiographers, and Religious Experience: The Case of Tukaram and Mahipati
Religions 2019, 10(2), 110; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020110
Received: 27 December 2018 / Revised: 6 February 2019 / Accepted: 12 February 2019 / Published: 15 February 2019
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Abstract
One of the most important developments in Hinduism in the Common Era has been the rise of devotionalism or bhakti. Though theologians and others have contributed to this development, the primary motive force behind it has been poets, who have composed songs [...] Read more.
One of the most important developments in Hinduism in the Common Era has been the rise of devotionalism or bhakti. Though theologians and others have contributed to this development, the primary motive force behind it has been poets, who have composed songs celebrating their love for God, and sometimes lamenting their distance from Her. From early in their history, bhakti traditions have praised not only the various gods, but also the devotional poets as well. And so hagiographies have been written about the lives of those exceptional devotees. It could be argued that we find the religious experience of these devotees in their own compositions and in these hagiographies. This article will raise questions about the reliability of our access to the poets’ religious experience through these sources, taking as a test case the seventeenth century devotional poet Tukaram and the hagiographer Mahipati. Tukaram is a particularly apt case for a study of devotional poetry and hagiography as the means to access the religious experience of a Hindu saint, since scholars have argued that his works are unusual in the degree to which he reflects on his own life. We will see why, for reasons of textual history, and for more theoretical reasons, the experience of saints such as Tukaram must remain elusive. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Experience in the Hindu Tradition)
Open AccessArticle Religious Experience without an Experiencer: The ‘Not I’ in Sāṃkhya and Yoga
Religions 2019, 10(2), 94; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020094
Received: 2 January 2019 / Revised: 22 January 2019 / Accepted: 24 January 2019 / Published: 2 February 2019
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Abstract
“Experience” is a category that seems to have developed new meaning in European thought after the Enlightenment when personal inwardness took on the weight of an absent God. The inner self (including, a little later, a sub- or unconscious mind) rose to prominence [...] Read more.
“Experience” is a category that seems to have developed new meaning in European thought after the Enlightenment when personal inwardness took on the weight of an absent God. The inner self (including, a little later, a sub- or unconscious mind) rose to prominence about 200–300 years ago, around the time of the “Counter-Enlightenment” and Romanticism, and enjoyed a rich and long life in philosophy (including Lebensphilosophie) and religious studies, but began a steep descent under fire around 1970. The critique of “essentialism” (the claim that experience is self-validating and impervious to historical and scientific explanation or challenge) was probably the main point of attack, but there were others. The Frankfurt School (Adorno, Benjamin, et al.) claimed that authentic experience was difficult or impossible in the modern capitalist era. The question of the reality of the individual self to which experience happens also threatened to undermine the concept. This paper argues that the religious experience characteristic of Sāṃkhya and Yoga, while in some ways paralleling Romanticism and Lebensphilosophies, differs from them in one essential way. Sāṃkhyan/Yogic experience is not something that happens to, or in, an individual person. It does not occur to or for oneself (in the usual sense) but rather puruṣārtha, “for the sake of [artha] an innermost consciousness/self”[puruṣa] which must be distinguished from the “solitude” of “individual men” (the recipient, for William James, of religious experience) which would be called ahaṃkāra, or “ego assertion” in the Indian perspectives. The distinction found in European Lebensphilosophie between two kinds of experience, Erlebnis (a present-focused lived moment) and Erfahrung (a constructed, time-binding thread of life, involving memory and often constituting a story) helps to understand what is happening in Sāṃkhya and Yoga. The concept closest to experience in Sāṃkhya/Yoga is named by the Sanskrit root dṛś-, “seeing,” which is a process actualized through long meditative practice and close philosophical reasoning. The Erfahrung “story” enacted in Sāṃkhya/Yoga practice is a sort of dance-drama in which psychomaterial Nature (prakṛti) reveals to her inner consciousness and possessor (puruṣa) that she “is not, has nothing of her own, and does not have the quality of being an ‘I’” (nāsmi na me nāham). This self exposure as “not I” apophatically reveals puruṣa, and lets him shine for them both, as pure consciousness. Prakṛti’s long quest for puruṣa, seeking him with the finest insight (jñāna), culminates in realization that she is not the seer in this process but the seen, and that her failure has been to assert aham (“I”) rather than realize nāham, “Not I.” Her meditation and insight have led to an experience which was always for an Other, though that was not recognized until the story’s end. Rather like McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” the nature or structure of experience in Sāṃkhya and Yoga is also its content, what religious experience is about in these philosophies and practices. In Western terms, we have religious experience only when we recognize what (all) experience (already) is: the unfolding story of puruṣārtha. Experience deepens the more we see that it is not ours; the recognition of non-I, in fact, is what makes genuine experience possible at all. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Experience in the Hindu Tradition)
Open AccessArticle Sacred Music and Hindu Religious Experience: From Ancient Roots to the Modern Classical Tradition
Religions 2019, 10(2), 85; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020085
Received: 22 December 2018 / Revised: 23 January 2019 / Accepted: 24 January 2019 / Published: 29 January 2019
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Abstract
While music plays a significant role in many of the world’s religions, it is in the Hindu religion that one finds one of the closest bonds between music and religious experience extending for millennia. The recitation of the syllable OM and the chanting [...] Read more.
While music plays a significant role in many of the world’s religions, it is in the Hindu religion that one finds one of the closest bonds between music and religious experience extending for millennia. The recitation of the syllable OM and the chanting of Sanskrit Mantras and hymns from the Vedas formed the core of ancient fire sacrifices. The Upanishads articulated OM as Śabda-Brahman, the Sound-Absolute that became the object of meditation in Yoga. First described by Bharata in the Nātya-Śāstra as a sacred art with reference to Rasa (emotional states), ancient music or Sangīta was a vehicle of liberation (Mokṣa) founded in the worship of deities such as Brahmā, Vishnu, Śiva, and Goddess Sarasvatī. Medieval Tantra and music texts introduced the concept of Nāda-Brahman as the source of sacred music that was understood in terms of Rāgas, melodic formulas, and Tālas, rhythms, forming the basis of Indian music today. Nearly all genres of Indian music, whether the classical Dhrupad and Khayal, or the devotional Bhajan and Kīrtan, share a common theoretical and practical understanding, and are bound together in a mystical spirituality based on the experience of sacred sound. Drawing upon ancient and medieval texts and Bhakti traditions, this article describes how music enables Hindu religious experience in fundamental ways. By citing several examples from the modern Hindustani classical vocal tradition of Khayal, including text and audio/video weblinks, it is revealed how the classical songs contain the wisdom of Hinduism and provide a deeper appreciation of the many musical styles that currently permeate the Hindu and Yoga landscapes of the West. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Experience in the Hindu Tradition)
Open AccessArticle Shankh-er Shongshar, Afterlife Everyday: Religious Experience of the Evening Conch and Goddesses in Bengali Hindu Homes
Religions 2019, 10(1), 53; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010053
Received: 20 December 2018 / Revised: 9 January 2019 / Accepted: 13 January 2019 / Published: 15 January 2019
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Abstract
This essay brings together critical archetypes of Bengali Hindu home-experience: the sound of the evening shankh (conch), the goddess Lakshmi, and the female snake-deity, Manasa. It analyzes the everyday phenomenology of the home, not simply through the European category of the ‘domestic’, but [...] Read more.
This essay brings together critical archetypes of Bengali Hindu home-experience: the sound of the evening shankh (conch), the goddess Lakshmi, and the female snake-deity, Manasa. It analyzes the everyday phenomenology of the home, not simply through the European category of the ‘domestic’, but conceptually more elastic vernacular religious discourse of shongshar, which means both home and world. The conch is studied as a direct material embodiment of the sacred domestic. Its materiality and sound-ontology evoke a religious experience fused with this-worldly wellbeing (mongol) and afterlife stillness. Further, (contrary) worship ontologies of Lakshmi, the life-goddess of mongol, and Manasa, the death-and-resuscitation goddess, are discussed, and the twists of these ambivalent imaginings are shown to be engraved in the conch’s body and audition. Bringing goddesses and conch-aesthetics together, shongshar is thus presented as a religious everyday dwelling, where the ‘home’ and ‘world’ are connected through spiraling experiences of life, death, and resuscitation. Problematizing the monolithic idea of the secular home as a protecting domain from the outside world, I argue that everyday religious experience of the Bengali domestic, as especially encountered and narrated by female householders, essentially includes both Lakshmi/life/fertility and Manasa/death/renunciation. Exploring the analogy of the spirals of shankh and shongshar, spatial and temporal experiences of the sacred domestic are also complicated. Based on ritual texts, fieldwork among Lakshmi and Manasa worshippers, conch-collectors, craftsmen and specialists, and immersion in the everyday religious world, I foreground a new aesthetic phenomenology at the interface of the metaphysics of sound, moralities of goddess-devotions, and the Bengali home’s experience of afterlife everyday. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Experience in the Hindu Tradition)
Open AccessArticle The Experience of Srividya at Devipuram
Religions 2019, 10(1), 14; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010014
Received: 14 November 2018 / Revised: 20 December 2018 / Accepted: 24 December 2018 / Published: 28 December 2018
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Abstract
This essay discusses the religious experience of Srividya practices at Devipuram in Andhra Pradesh, South India, based on ethnographic studies conducted in 2014 and 2015. A summary of phenomena described by Amritanandanatha Saraswati in his memoirs situates the background. Interviews with three disciples [...] Read more.
This essay discusses the religious experience of Srividya practices at Devipuram in Andhra Pradesh, South India, based on ethnographic studies conducted in 2014 and 2015. A summary of phenomena described by Amritanandanatha Saraswati in his memoirs situates the background. Interviews with three disciples of Amritananda probe their visionary experiences, practical methodologies and relationships with the Goddess. An inter-textual study of interviews, memoirs and narratives helps identify a theme of vision and embodiment—in particular, the aniconic graphic form of the Goddess, the Sriyantra, which is experienced as embodied within the practitioner. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Experience in the Hindu Tradition)
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Open AccessArticle Earning God through the “One-Hundred Rupee Note”: Nirguṇa Bhakti and Religious Experience among Hindu Renouncers in North India
Religions 2018, 9(12), 408; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9120408
Received: 9 November 2018 / Revised: 4 December 2018 / Accepted: 6 December 2018 / Published: 11 December 2018
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Abstract
This article examines the everyday religious phenomenon of nirguṇa bhakti as it is experienced by Hindu renouncers (sādhus) in North India. As an Indian language concept, nirguṇa bhakti characterizes a type of devotion (bhakti) that is expressed in relation [...] Read more.
This article examines the everyday religious phenomenon of nirguṇa bhakti as it is experienced by Hindu renouncers (sādhus) in North India. As an Indian language concept, nirguṇa bhakti characterizes a type of devotion (bhakti) that is expressed in relation to a divinity who is said to be without (nir) the worldly characteristics and attributes of sex and gender, name and form, race and ethnicity, class and caste. Although bhakti requires a relationship between the devotee and the deity, the nirguṇa kind transcends the boundaries of relational experience, dissolving concepts of “self” and “other”, and, in effect, accentuating the experience of union in the divine absolute. In comparison to saguṇa bhakti (devotion to a deity with attributes), nirguṇa bhakti is considered to be difficult to realize in human birth. Yet, the poetry, songs, and practices of uncommon humans who have not only left behind social norms, but also, devoting their lives to the worship of the divine, achieved forms of divine realization, people like the mystics, saints and sādhus of Hindu traditions, laud the liberating power and insights of nirguṇa bhakti. The Hindu sādhus featured in this article describe their experiences of nirguṇa bhakti through the use of the idiom of a “one-hundred rupee note” to distinguish its superior value and, as significantly, to indicate that humans “earn” God (Brahman) through the practice of nirguṇa devotion. As a “precious” spiritual asset on the path of liberation, nirguṇa bhakti establishes the religious authority and authenticity of sādhus, while setting them apart from other sādhus and holy figures in a vibrant North Indian religious landscape. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Experience in the Hindu Tradition)
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