Bengali Tantra and Nationalism: John Woodroffe's writings

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Bust of Sir John Woodroffe (1900s, British Library, Photo 273(3) )

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How were the writings of Sir John Woodroffe instrumental in the shaping of modern understandings of Tantra?

At least until the 1970s, Sir John Woodroffe's (1865-1936) editions and studies of Tantric texts have informed both academic scholars and a wider readership. Having worked for decades as a judge in Kolkata, Woodroffe is an exemplar of a globally entangled history of religions. His pseudonym 'Arthur Avalon' represented a group of collaborators, mostly learned Bengalis, who acted as his informants. Scholars have consequently examined Woodroffe’s role as a nodal point between Indian and Western thought but payed relatively little attention to the Bengali context.

This talk will discuss how Woodroffe’s understanding of Tantra was less dependent on Western ideas than on a specific Bengali reform Tantra that has developed since the 18th century. It is against this background that Woodroffe juxtaposed Tantric 'orthodoxy' with 'Hindu reformers' and proclaimed that Tantra should function as the driving 'power' behind an Indian national revival. At the same time, he drew parallels to the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism and hailed the recent discoveries of occultism as the proof of Indian wisdom. These notions express an ambiguous struggle for the 'modern' meaning of religion and national identity.

This talk is free and you don't need to book a ticket.

Julian Strube is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Heidelberg. He focuses on the relationship between religion and politics, most specifically in the context of esotericism. He currently works on a project about Tantra in the context of a global religious history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Image: Bust of Sir John Woodroffe (1900s, British Library, Photo 273(3) )

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Name: Bengali Tantra and Nationalism: John Woodroffe's writings
Where: Foyle Visitor and Learning Centre
The British Library
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London
NW1 2DB
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