Retrospective on SOCCIS, 1972-2002: Reports by Chairs and Coordinators of Various Consortium Committees and Working Groups
Southern California Seminar on South Asia
Professor Christopher Key Chapple
Loyola Marymount University
In the spring of 1986, a group of scholars began meeting to share research on topics pertaining to the study of South Asia. The group was convened through the national mailing lists of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy and the registry of professors teaching Asian religions published by Chapel House of Colgate. Soon, as word of the group spread, the list expanded to include Southern California scholars from other disciplines. Initially, over 75 people expressed interest in being informed of the group's activities; since then, the list has grown dramatically.
The original name taken by the group was the Southern California Seminar for South Asian Thought, Religion, and Culture. Its nickname is Moksa (Sanskrit for "liberation"), suggested by Ninian Smart of UC Santa Barbara as an acronym for "Meetings on Knowledge about South Asia." In light of the growing interest in the group on the part of historians and others, and for the sake of brevity, the name, "Southern California Seminar on South Asia," was proposed and implemented in 1989.
From the beginning, the hallmark of the Seminar has been its diversity. South Asia remains one of the most culturally rich regions on the planet. Due to the plethora of material regarding religion, philosophy, history, etc. there exists a distinct danger of exclusive overspecialization. The Seminar, as a SOCCIS standing committee, has focused on exploring the breadth of our region in an attempt to create an encompassing, dynamic forum on the subject of South Asia.
During the first year of the seminar, eight individual papers were delivered at six different campuses in the region: "Gurus, Graves, and Rice" by Glenn Yocum of Whittier College at LMU; "Matrikas and Mothers: Birth, Death, and Liberation by Katherine Harper of LMU at UCLA; "The Persistence of Religion" by Kees Bolle of UCLA at Whittier; "Bharata Natyam by Medha Yodh of UCLA at LMU; "Bhil Holi Melas" by Katharine Free at CSUN; "The Idea of Reincarnation" by Joseph Prabhu of CSULA at Mt. St. Mary's College; "The Question of Detachment" by Hope Fitz of Mt. St. Mary's at CLULB; "The Significance of Rivers" by Anne Feldhaus at LMU. These events took place on a monthly basis from March 1986 to May 1987.
Additionally, the seminar cooperated with as ASEAN conference held May 5th and 6th, 1987, at CSULB. Professor Gertrude Robinson of Loyola Marymount University did a presentation of "Indonesian Music and Shadow Puppets" while Professor Robert Brown of UCLA focused "On Buddhist Art in Thailand". At the same conference Professor Joseph Prabhu of CSU Los Angeles tackled the topic of "Models for Modernization and Westernization in Southeast Asia" and Dr. Ivan Strenski of the Journal of Religion spoke about "Buddhism and the Custom of Gift Giving".
The following academic year, the Seminar sponsored its first academic conference titled "The Mahabharata: Interpretation and Performance." This was held on October 4, 1987, at UCLA, in conjunction with the Peter Brook production of the Mahabharata which occurred that fall at Raleigh Studios. The following papers were presented: "The Geopolitical Context of the Mahabharata Epic" by Siva Bajpai, CSUN; "Vyasa: The Epic Author" by Bruce Sullivan, Northern Arizona University; "Attending South India Folk Dramas of the Mahabharata" by Alf Hiltebeitel of George Washington University; "Peter Brook and the Modern Theatre Experiment" by Katharine Free of LMU; "The Mahabharata and American Letters: Do We Have Room for It?" by James Fitzgerald of the University of Tennessee; "Violence and Nonviolence: An End to All Wars?" by Christopher Chapple, LMU.
In the spring of 1988, three individual papers were presented: "Buddhism and Political Legitimation in Sri Lanka: The Role of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy" by Paul Hanson of Cal Lutheran University at Cal State San Bernardino; "The Significance of Art from Bodhgaya" by Janice Leoshko of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at LMU; "Sylvain Levi, the Durkheimians, and the Study of Ritual" by Ivan Strenski at Whittier College.
In the fall of 1988, Carl Ernst of Pomona College presented "How to Listen to Sufi Qawwali Music: Advice from the Early Chisthi Master at LMU; David Smith of the University of Lancaster, England, presented "South Indian Painting: The Dance of Siva at Cidambaram" at UCLA; Srinivasa Chari presented "Vaishnavism as Religion and Philosophy" at CSUN.
The Seminar sponsored its second conference on October 21, 1989 at Long Beach, titled "The Roots of Tantra." The conference included the following presentations: Thomas McEvilley of Rice University on "The Roots of Yoga;" Katherine Harper of LMU on "Early Tantric Art;" M.C. Joshi of the Archaeological Survey of India on "Historical and Iconographic Aspects of Sakta Tantras;" Richard Payne of U.C. Berkeley on "Tongues of Flame: Identification in the Fire Ritual;" Kees Boole of UCLA on "Understanding Ritual;" and Paul Muller-Ortega of Michigan State University on "The Kashmiri Roots of Tantra." This conference was followed up with a second gathering listed later and has resulted in the publication of a book by State University of New York Press, Roots of Tantra, co-edited by Katherine Harper and Robert Brown.
Six other papers were presented individually within the South Asia seminar during the 1989-90 academic year: K.M. Rao of New College, Madras, on "Synchronic and Diachronic Aspects of the Concept of Karma" at Whittier; A.J. Gail, Free University of Berlin, on "Images of Nepal: Iconographic Questions Regarding Buddhist and Hindu Art in the Kathmandu Valley at UCLA; Christopher Chapple, LMU, "The Fast Unto Death in Jaina Tradition" at Pomona College; Frank Clooney, Boston College "Translating the Good: Robert deNobili's Use of the Moral Argument in his Tamil Treatises" at LMU; Joseph Prabhu of CSULA, "DeNobili, Indian Christian Theology, and Jesuit Education in India" at LMU; and Siva Bajpai, "Raja Mandala: Perspectives on Power in Classical India" at CSULB.
During the 1990-91 academic year, the Seminar sponsored one small conference and two additional paper presentations. The conference, on various approaches to the study of the Yoga tradition, was held at USC and included the following: Lloyd Pflueger of UCSB on "Stitches out of Time: Approaching the Yogasutras as Sutras;" Carl Ernst of Pomona College on "The Amritakunda: An Arabic Yoga Treatise;" Christopher Chapple of LMU on "Sequences of Sutras: Reading Patanjali without Vyasa;" and Bhagavan Singh of UNLV on "The Significance of Samapatti in the Samadhi Pada." The two papers were Brian K. Smith of UC Riverside on "How Not to Be a Hindu: The Legal Case of the Ramakrishna Mission" at UCLA; and Glenn Yocum of Whittier College on "Gurus, Brahmins, and Politicians in Contemporary India: The Pattabhiseka (Cornonation) of the Sankaracarya of Sringeri, October 1989" at UC Riverside.
During the 1991-92 academic year, the Seminar arranged the following talks: Gail Hinich Sutherland of Louisiana State University on "Surrogate Fathers and Reluctant Mothers: The Practice of Niyoga in the Mahabharata" in Wrightwood; Peter Sutherland of Oxford University on "The Travelling Gods of the Western Himalayas: The Ritual Construction of Politics in a Former Princely State" at UCLA; nazir Ali Jairazbhoy and Amy Catlin of UCLA on "The Bake Restudy, 1984: South Indian Performances" at LMU; Richard Eaton of University of Arizona on "Exploring Islamic Culture on the India Frontier: The Case of Bengal" at Pomona College; K. Satchidanand Murty of Andhra University on "Vedic Hermeneutics" at UCLA.
Activities during the 1992-93 academic year included: Steward Gordon on "Ecological Change and Social Migration in the Deccan during the 17th Century" at LMU; Parul Shah of Maharaja Syajirao University in Baroda on "Bharata Natyam" at LMU; Douglas Renfrew Brooks of the University of Rochester on "The Definition and Origins of Tantra in India" at UCLA; Lina Gupta of Glendale College on "Ganga: Purity and Pollution" at LMU; Yajneshwar Shastri of Gujarat University on "The Place of Suicide in Indian Religion and Culture, LMU. The Seminar also participated in the planning and in various presentations at the East Meets West Conference organized by Srinivas Murthy of CSULB.
The Seminar mounted a major art exhibition during the 1993-94 academic year on "Symbolic Heat: Gender, Health, and Worship among the Tamils of South India and Sri Lanka" at Laband Art Gallery, LMU. Dennis McGilvray of the University of Colorado in Boulder, presented an illustrated lecture titled "Heat, Health, and Gender in Tamil Culture" in conjunction with the exhibit. Additionally, Ginni Ishimatsu of Whittier College, presented "Written and Oral Dimensions of Scripture in Hindu Temple Worship" at UCLA, and the Doshi Family helped sponsor the following lecture series at LMU: Lina Gupta, Glendale College: "Women and the Goddess in Hinduism;" Christopher Chapple on "Principles and Practices of Yoga;" Sunanda Shastri of Gujarat University on "Hinduism and Ecology;" Katherine Harper of LMU on "The Kailasananta Temple at Kanchipuram" and Yajneshwar Shastri of Gujarat University on "Vedanta and Science."
During the 1994-95 academic year, the South Asia Seminar sponsored a follow-up meeting on Roots of Tantra at UCLA and held the Doshi Lecture Series again at LMU. The Tantra conference included papers by David Lorenzen of the University of Mexico on "Early Evidence for Tantric Ritual," Lina Gupta of Glendale College on "Tantric Rituals in the Devi Purana" and Douglas Renfrew Brooks of the University of Rochester on "Auspicious Fragments and Uncertain Wisdom: The Roots of Srividya Sakta in South India." The lecture series included "Vedic Ritual and Mimamsa Philosophy" by Purusottama Bilimoria of Deakin University; "The Jaina Yogas of Haribhadra" by Christopher Chapple, "Gender, Religion, and State in South Asia" by Renuka Sharma of Monash University; and "The Seven Goddess Tradition" by Katherine Harper of LMU.
In the spring of 1996, Carol Prorok of Slippery Rock University presented "Hindu Temples and Ethnic Identity" at LMU. Additionally, the Seminar sponsored a conference on Religion and Environment in South Asia at the University of San Diego. The following papers were presented: "Traditionalist and Renouncer Models: Toward an Indigenous Indian Environmentalism" by Christopher Chapple; "Attitudes toward Nature in the Early Upanisads" by Arvind Sharma of McGill University; "Attitudes to Nature in Hindu and Buddhist Art" by Robert Brown of UCLA; "Women and the Social Construction of Bhu-devi, the Earth Goddess, in Tamil Nadu by Vijaya Nagarajan, UC Berkeley; "Nonviolence, Nondualism, and Ecological Ethics in South Asia" by J.G. Arapura of McMaster University; "A Few Doubts: How Ecological is Religion in South Asia" by Lance Nelson, USD, the conference organizer; and a response by P.S. Jaini of UC Berkeley. The conference resulted in the publication of a book title Purifying the Earthly Body of God, edited by Lance Nelson, State University of New York Press, 1998.
The following academic year, the seminar welcome recently-hired South Asianists from around Southern California to present their research at UCLA. The talks included: "Indra Devi and the Lila of Mirabai: A Tale of Oral Tradition in Transformation" by Nancy Martin of Chapman University; "Social and Cultural Politics of Fasting in India: by Vinay Lal of UCLA; "Stability in South Asia" by Ashley Tellis of the Rand Institute; and "The World of the Siddhas" by David Gordon White of UCSB. The seminar also sponsored an international seminar on the Yoga Tradition, which included the following papers: "Samkhya and the Yoga Tradition" by Bhagavan Singh of UNLV; "Tension between Vyutthana and Nirodha in the Yoga Sutras" by T.S. Rukmani of Concordia University; "Implications for Embodied Freedom in Patanjali;s Yoga" by Ian Whicher, Cambridge University; "Purity and Diversity in the Yoga Traditions of Patanjali and Haribhadra" by Christopher Chapple; "Yoga in Early Hindu Tantra" by David Gordon White, UCSB; "Metaphoric Worlds and Yoga in the Vaisnava Sahajiya Tantric Traditions of Medieval Bengal" by Glen Alexander Hayes, Bloomfield College, and "Reflections and Reponse" by Georg Feuerstein, Yoga Research Center. Frank Clooney of Boston College presented a single paper later in 1997 on "When Rama Worshipped Shiva and Why It Bothered at 17th Century Jesuit Missionary at LACMA.
The Seminar sponsored a second major art exhibition in January and February of 1998: "Divine Carriers: New Art from India and Nepal," curated by Jane Brucker, Katherine Harper, and Debashish Banegree at Laband Gallery. It included a conference on the arts of contemporary South Asia where the following papers were presented: "National Identity and Modernism in Contemporary Indian Art" by Debashish Banerjee, UCLA; "From the Outside Looking In: Form and Meaning in Neo-Tantric Art" by Katherine Harper, LMU; "Journey to Mt. Meru: New Art Holding the Earth Together" by Jane Brucker, LMU; "The Impact of Indian Art and Thought on 20th Century Western Art by Peg De La Mater, Winthrop University; "Vaishnava Devotion in the Music of Contemporary India by Meilu Ho, UCSD; and "Independent Documentary Films in Contemporary India by Beheroze Shroff, UC Irvine, who also showed her film "A Life After Death."
In the spring of 1999, the Seminar on South Asia, in conjunction with the Infinity Foundation, sponsored an International Conference on the Yogavasistha. This two day conference included the following presentations: "Studying the Yogavasistha: Space, Consciousness, and Realities," Arindam Chakrabarti, University of Hawaii; "On the Interrelationship of Knowledge, Dispassion, and Living Liberation in the Moskshopaya" by Walter Slaje, Martin Luther University, Germany; "Living Liberation in the Yogavasistha" by Andrew Fort, Texas Christian University; "The Role of the Guru in the Yogavasistha" by Lina Gupta, Glendale College; "The Existence of Many Worlds in the Yogavasistha" by Garth Bregman, University of Hawaii; "Radical Transformation in the Yogavasistha: A Phenomenological Interpretation" by Matthew MacKenzie, Universityof Hawaii; "Interiority and the Elements in the Yogavasistha," Christopher Chapple, LMU; "Tradition and Authority: Vedantic and Buddhist Ideas in the Yogavasistha," Gary Tubb, Columbia University; "Citta, Cittakasha, and Jiva in the Original Yogavasistha" by Bruno Lo Turco, University of Rome. These papers are being edited by Professors Chakrabarti and Chapple for publication.
In the fall of 1999, the seminar co-sponsored a dialogue on Women and Spirituality, which included the following papers pertaining to Indian tradition: "Women's Spirituality in Hindu Tradition," Saradeshaprana, Vedanta Society of Southern California; "Images and Reflections in Lalla's Verses" by Jaishree Kak Odin, University of Hawaii; "Mother-Child and Mortality: The Paradox of Kali" by Vrinda Dalmiya, University of Hawaii.
In the fall of 2000, the seminar presented a one-day conference on Yoga Traditions at UCLA that included Ian Whicher of the University of Saskatchewan on "Classical Yoga of Patanjali," Christopher Chapple on "Images of the Feminine in Classical Yoga: Examples from Patanjali and Haribhadra," John Casey of LMU on "Buddhism and Yoga," Olle Quarstrom of Lund University on "Jainism and Yoga," and Vidyasankar Sundaresam of California Institute of Technology on "Vedanta and Yoga." The seminar again co-sponsored a dialogue, this time of the topic of Social Service. India-related speakers included Ashok Malhotra of the State University of New York, Oneonta; Swami Asaktananda of Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur; Swami Agnivesh of Religions for Social Justice; and Kiran Bedi, Joint Commisioner of Delhi Police. In the spring of 2001, the seminar hosted three scholars for a presentation of recent research: "Sita in the Kitchen: Pativrata and Ramrajya" by Phyllis Herman of CSUN; "The Poison in the Gift Revisited" by Maria Hibbets of CSULB; and "Divine Madness in Kashmir Saiva Texts and Traditions" by Marcy Braverman of UCSB. This event was held at UCLA.
During the current academic year, two major events have been planned. The first will be participation in a dialogue on spiritual practice at LMU. Professors S.N. and Meena Sridhar, of the Center for India Studies and Department of Linguistics at the State University of New York at Stony Brook will be featured along with Swami Sarvadevanda to represent the Hindu tradition. Additionally, a major international conference will be held at Cal Poly Pomona on "Lessons of Ahimsa and Anekanta for Contemporary Life." This event will include the following presentations: "Mahavira and Reverential Ecology" by Satish Kumar, Schumacher College; "Ahimsa and Nonviolence: A Comparison of Religious and Cultural Values" by John Cort, Dennison College; "Ahimsa and Compassion" by Kristi Wiley, UC Bekeley; "Nonviolence and Terrorism" by Kim Skoog, U Guam; "The Ontolotical and Epistemological Significance of Anekantavada" by John Koller, Rensselaer Polytechnic Insitute; "Multidimensional Significance of Anekanta in Social Life," Kamla Jain, College of Jesus and Mary, Delhi University; "Beyond Anekantavada: A Jain Perspective on Tolerance," Paul Dundas, University of Edinburgh; "Exemplars of Anekanta and Ahimsa: The Case of Early Jains of Mathura in Art and Epigraphy," Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, UC Irvine; "Religious Dissonance and Reconciliation: The Haribhadra Story," Christopher Chapple; "Anekant, Ahimsa, and the Question of Pluralism," Anne Vallely, McGill University; "Response," P.S. Jaini, UC Berkeley.
The Seminar has presented a variety of activities ranging from dance performances to art exhibits to scholarly seminars and conferences. Two books have resulted from the seminar's activities (The Roots of Tantra and Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu India), and two more are in the process of being published. The Southern California Seminar on South Asia has benefited immensely from SOCCIS support since its inception and looks forward to continuing its work on behalf of the study of South Asia in Southern California.