CSA weekly lunchtime lecture. Free and Open to the Public
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) is often regarded as a modern champion of the Advaita Vedānta philosophical tradition--indeed, he presented himself in that way. However, in some of his works he offered a trenchant critique of Śaṅkara (8th c. CE), the foundational thinker of the Advaita Vedānta school. Vivekananda pointed to Śaṅkara’s “great pride in his Brahmanism” and “specious arguments” defending caste discrimination as revealing Śaṅkara’s limitations as a thinker. Vivekananda’s critique is not specifically modern; further examination reveals medieval critics of Śaṅkara who similarly argued that the philosophy of non-dualism (advaita) entails the obliteration of all caste distinctions. In this talk we will consider some of the possibilities for and limitations of Advaita Vedānta as an indigenous South Asian philosophy of political and human emancipation.
Andrew J. Nicholson is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies and the Department of Philosophy at Stony Brook University. His first book, Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History (Columbia University Press, 2010) won the award for Best First Book in the History of Religions from the American Academy of Religion. His second book, Lord Śiva’s Song: The Īśvara Gītā (SUNY Press, 2014) is an annotated translation of a Sanskrit philosophical dialogue from 8th century India. Professor Nicholson’s areas of research include philosophy of religion, Indian intellectual history, and comparative hermeneutics.12