Join professor of Indian religions, Dr. Patton Burchett, and a global cohort of students, for this unique opportunity to explore the incredible history of yoga and devotion.
This online course explores the rich and shifting historical relationship between yoga and devotion (bhakti) from ancient India up to the present-day. Advancing beyond preconceived modern notions of what yoga and devotion are, we will examine the body of ideas, values, and practices historically associated with each term and the ways in which the two have fused, intertwined, and conflicted in different Indian traditions and historical eras. In understanding how yoga and devotion have been positioned in relation to one another, we will come to see the history of Yoga in a new and fascinating light.
Drawing on primary sources – the Upaniṣads, Bhagavad Gītā, Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra, Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Indian Sufi romance, Nāth Yogī literature, bhakti poetry, and more – alongside cutting edge scholarship, the course will chart out the important ways in which the history of devotion and the history of yoga in India intersect with and inform each other. Beginning in ancient and classical India, then proceeding to medieval India’s “Tantric Age,” we will give special attention to the Sufis, bhaktas (devotees), and yogīs of early modern North India, whose relationships with one another offer unique insights into shifts in Indian understandings of devotional religiosity vis-à-vis yoga, tantra, and asceticism. Finally, we explore the ways that colonial (Western Christian) viewpoints regarding the nature of religion, devotion, and Indian yogīs prompted new developments in the history of yoga and fundamentally shaped the character of modern postural yoga today as ‘spirituality’ and secular fitness.
Among many other curated readings available for download, students will have the opportunity to read and discuss select chapter's from Dr. Burchett's recently published book, A Genealogy of Devotion: Bhakti, Tantra, Yoga, and Sufism in North India (Columbia University Press, 2019).
This module introduces the concept of bhakti, draws some basic contrasts between yoga and bhakti as religious modalities, and explores the early histories of both yoga and devotion in primary sources such as the Upaniṣads, Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra, and the Bhagavad Gītā.
This module examines the trope of “the Bhakti Movement” in Indian religious history, discusses the rise of Hindu theism, temple culture, and Tantra (including tantric yoga) in India’s medieval period, and explores the relationships between bhakti, yoga, and Tantra in medieval sources, with special attention to the famed Vaiṣṇava devotional scripture, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa.
This module explores the impact of Persian culture and Islam’s entry into the Indian subcontinent, with special attention to Sufism and its interaction with bhakti and tantric-yogic traditions during the early modern era. We will explore the rise of haṭha yoga and the Nāth Yogīs, as well as the key features of North India’s “bhakti movement,” in the Sultanate and Mughal periods, highlighting a distinct shift in Indian understandings of the nature of and relationship between devotion and yoga that emerges at this time.
The final module first examines both subtle appropriation and direct criticism of yoga and yogīs in early modern Sufi and bhakti devotional traditions, discussing Sufi premākhyān literature and the poetry of the bhakti saints Mīrābāī, Tulsīdās, and, most especially, Kabīr. We will then proceed to a brief discussion of the impacts of British colonialism and European Orientalist thought on the historical development of yoga, drawing out how Protestant Christian assumptions about religion as devotion have contributed to modern postural yoga’s successful representation as secular fitness and/or spirituality.
Patton Burchett is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He earned his PhD in South Asian Religions from Columbia University in 2012 and then spent three years as an Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow in Religious Studies at New York University (NYU). Patton's research focuses on early modern devotional (bhakti) traditions and tantric and yogic religiosity in North India and on the interrelations of magic, science, and religion in the rise of Indian and Western modernities. He is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on bhakti literature and Mughal-era Indian religious history (among other topics), and his first book, A Genealogy of Devotion: Bhakti, Tantra, Yoga, and Sufism in North India (Columbia University Press) was published in 2019.
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