Doctor of Philosophy in Asian Studies (PhD)
Critical Edition and Annotated translation of a tenth-century Sanskrit sex-manual
Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.
This dissertation engages with the topic of early modern community formation in SouthAsia. It focuses on a didactic form of literature of religious ethics and behavior regulation in theSikh religion known as the rahitname and asks why the two earliest texts of this genre wereproduced at all. The dissertation is based on primary documentation, and situates these texts inthe historical and cultural context of the frontier regions of Northwest India. By doing so, wearrive at a more nuanced understanding of the role that normative textual production played inthe articulation of Sikh self-understanding - particularly in the case of the Khalsa - an emergentorder within the broader Sikh community - amidst the various complex competing configurationsof religious and political power in the early eighteenth century. Additionally it situates thecultural production of the Sikh Khalsa in relation to other religious groups such as Sufis,Vaishnava groups, and Nath yogis, who were politically and culturally present in that milieu. Thedissertation locates the production of the manuals in two separate locations, one in Punjab andthe other in Maharashtra, and argues that the emergent Khalsa embarked upon localized forms ofreligious ethics as an expression of power and prestige. The dissertation further argues that thisproduction of religious ethics took place in competition with other religious groups as well as atransfer of charismatic religious appeal from the last human Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, whowas assassinated in 1708 just prior to the writing of the two texts, to the members of the Khalsa.Finally, the study concludes that the texts are based on the personal, charismatic bond betweenthe Guru and the Khalsa order, and that they were meant to be memorized by the members of theKhalsa. The texts thus represent a Khalsa claim to prestige and power through a religiouscharismatic appeal, in two different geocultural environments.
Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.
This thesis compares depictions of yoga in literature with the practices and philosophies described in yoga treatises between 400 BCE and 1500 CE. This comparison, while broad, will help establish a basis for future research into the pre-modern public perception of yoga and yogis, as well as provide some insight into how yoga evolved and was received both in the exogenous and endogenous spheres. This study employs a mixed-methods approach combining intellectual history, adaptive reuse, and intertextuality studies. It begins by examining yoga and philosophy treatises that provide the basis for various popular schools of yoga. The second section looks at early Islamicate engagements with yoga. The final section analyzes depictions of yoga in Sanskrit literature.The primary findings indicate that non-yoga practitioners in premodern South Asia were both curious about yoga while also wary of its claims to unlock magical powers in dedicated practitioners. There seemed to be a public awareness of what yoga was and who practiced it, but until the early-medieval period, circa seventh century CE, it was not recognized as a homogenous school. While the depictions of yogis all represented ascetics, the actual practices, abilities, and beliefs themselves diverged drastically, and whether it was accepted as a legitimate set of practices seemed to depend on the author more than their background.These results suggest that there was never any single definition of yoga, nor a broadly recognized school of yoga. Rather, there was an array of people who practiced asceticism and operated on the peripheries of the established religious traditions. The literary responses were initially curious. Yoga became more formalized in the second millennia and adopted more transgressive practices, and the writers were more cautious about the schools, often depicting them as blasphemous. Around 1500 CE we see more acceptance of yoga practices by writers.
In this thesis, I discuss classical Sanskrit women poets and propose an alternative reading of two specific women’s works as a way to complicate current readings of Classical Sanskrit women’s poetry. I begin by situating my work in current scholarship on Classical Sanskrit women poets which discusses women’s works collectively and sees women’s work as writing with alternative literary aesthetics. Through a close reading of two women poets (c. 400 CE-900 CE) who are often linked, I will show how these women were both writing for a courtly, educated audience and argue that they have different authorial voices. In my analysis, I pay close attention to subjectivity and style, employing the frameworks of Sanskrit aesthetic theory and Classical Sanskrit literary conventions in my close readings. In concluding this analysis I make the case that the two authors have different authorial voices and through these voices, had different engagements within mainstream Sanskrit literary production. Overall, my reading of these two authors portrays an alternative image of women’s courtly literary production—namely, that they wrote for an audience and were invested in mainstream Sanskrit literary aesthetics.
In this paper I discuss historical and contemporary approaches to the 10th century Sanskrit poet and playwright Rājaśekhara (most of which centre upon literary criticism) and propose an alternative approach to his work in which his plays might be examined in terms of their performance and courtly contexts. I then apply this analysis to his play Viddhaśālabhañjikā (The Hollow Statue). By analyzing the performance context focusing on the categories of body, space, and object, I argue that the text puts forward strong evidence for its own performativity, offers a diverse set of indications of how the play is to be staged, and contains a number of noteworthy and unique material characteristics. I then examine the courtly and historical context surrounding the play’s creation to offer suggestions about how its content may have been intended and received, as well as the significance of certain historical characters or events which seem to be embedded in the text. The result is that—rather than being a poorly-constructed, incomprehensible play full of inappropriate moments, depicting a Sanskrit dramatic form in decline—Viddhaśālabhañjikā is in fact quite a novel and complex work of Sanskrit drama that shows a conscious sensitivity to performance concerns and an acute awareness of its place in society.