Friday, October 7, 2011

On the historiography of bhakti

Until now, I used to think that the interpretation of the monkey-way and the kitten-way as corresponding to Catholicism and Lutheranism was due to Rudolf Otto's 1917 essay. However, Srilata Raman book (Tamil cats and Sanskrit monkeys, 2007) shows how Otto's claim itself had been prepared by previous authors, looking for monotheism as the culmination of every religious development and hence aiminig at identifying bhakti with what was more similar to it in India. A key work in this stream, maintains Raman, is George Grierson's article on Bhakti-mārga for the 1910 Encyclopedia of Religions and Ethics, edited by M. Eliade.
Since scholars working on Indian religions were usually themselves not Catholics, Grierson's and Otto's claims in turn nourished (or, as Raman maintains, were nourished by) "a stream of thought arising in the wake of modern Tamil historiography, which emphasized that the theological dispute was one between the Sanskritic Northern School and the Tamil Southern School". (Raman, p.13).

  1. 1. identification of Rāmānuja's bhakti as monotheism (hence, as the most valuable "religion" in India)
  2. 2. identification, within bhakti, of a Catholic and a Lutheran "church" (respectively, the Vaṭakalai and the Teṅkalai)
  3. 3. identification, by Tamil historians, of the best among these two (the Teṅkalai) with Tamil works and authors.
More on this topic can be read here.

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