Swāmi Vivekānanda – Re-assessing the man & his contributions

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Date(s) - 21/02/2014 - 22/02/2014
All Day




Swāmi Vivekānanda –

Re-assessing the man & his



In partnership with the National Centre for South Asian Studies, Monash University


The South Asian Studies Association of Australia

Friday 21st February 2014  1pm – 6pm


Saturday 22nd February 2014 9am -6pm


348 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC 3004


Narandranath Datta (1863-1902) or Swāmi Vivekānada was only 39 years old when he died, having earned for himself a global reputation as the ‘cyclonic monk from India’. Vivekānada presented an accessible view of Indian culture and religion to a western elite that was tired of colonialism’s preoccupation with the economic and social exploitation of Asia, and was a man of ceaseless energy who continues to inspire millions of followers in India and the USA.

This conference seeks to present perspectives on, and reassessments of, the life and work of Vivekānada its many complex dimensions by inviting scholars from across the world and across the disciplines to write about this intriguing personality in our effort to separate the rhetoric and myths about Vivekānada from his life, and assess his achievements and his ongoing impact. In doing this, we will also address broader questions about (i) the nature of vedantic thought; (ii) the practice of philosophy in daily life; (iii) religion as a motive force; and (iv) universalism and nationalism as complementary ideas for a global village. We have identified some conference themes below, but these do not exclude original suggestions from scholars wishing to participate in this reassessment.


The conference will be held at Monash University in Melbourne over two days in late November 2013 and will be divided into two parts: first an assessment of the life and thoughts of Vivekananda in an Indian context and second an assessment of the global political, historical and cultural context in which his ideas evolved and continue to impact.

We have invited a number of impressive scholars to speak on this occasion. See related documents on invited international speakers and others yet to come. At the end of the conference we will be publishing a monograph based on the key papers presented on this occasion.


A Vivekānada and India

The possible themes under this heading are:

  • • His life in India and how his ideas evolved
  • • His role in the independence struggle against the British Raj
  • • His view of the classical texts of Hinduism
  • • The debate about Vedanta
  • • His views of other Indian religions e.g. Buddhism
  • • His impact on Indian nationalism today including the debate on Hinduism vs secularism

B Vivekānada and the world

The possible themes under this heading are:

• The meaning of his address in 1893 to the World Congress of Religion in Chicago

  • • His role in the development of a global neo-Hinduism starting with the argument byHalbfass
  • that ‘During his first visit to the West, Vivekānanda became the man who made history: the
  • most influential shaper and protagonist of the Neo-Hindu spirit’(Halbfass, 1990, p.228)
  • • How the intellectual debates in the West (especially about Buddhism and western philosophy)
  • influenced Vivekānanda’s attempt to reconcile Vedanta with Buddhism(Halbfass, 1990,
  • pp.124-128, and Vivekānada, 1953, p.249)
  • • How and why Vivekānandasought to create a ‘spiritual oneness of the world universe’ and
  • why he claimed that this was India’s special gift to the world(Halbfass, 1990, p.231)
  • • His life as a social reformer and the role of western education, technology and science in
  • addressing Indian economic backwardness (Vivekānada, 1953, p.249)
  • • His relationship with western thinkers such as Max Muller and Paul Deussen(Doherty, 1979,
  • pp.12-17)

Vivekānanda in Chicago 1893

Membership of the Monash University Committee:

Dr Andrea di Castro

Dr David Templeman

Dr Jayant Bapat

Dr Ian Mabbett

Mr Iftikhar Arman Rashid (Postgraduate representative)

Dr Gidi Irfegan (Research Adjunct to the Conference)

Professor Marika Vicziany (Chair)

Abstracts for Invited International Speakers – Vivekananda

Dr. Knut Jacobson

Vivekananda and Hariharānanda Āraṇya- a comparison: Vivekānanda’s book Rāja-yoga, a commentary on the Yogasūtra is said to mark the beginning of modern yoga. In this paper I make some comparisons between the interpretations of yoga in Rāja-yoga and in the Sanskrit and Bengali commentaries by a contemporary of Vivekānanda, the Bengali Sāṃkhya-yogin Hariharānanda Āraṇya. Their practices as well as interpretations of yoga differ markedly. There seems to have been an interest in Yogasūtra and the Sāṃkhya-Yoga philosophy in Kolkata and Bengal at the time, and Vivekānanda’s work and mission probably did much to increase that interest. Vivekānanda responded to a number of challenges, from colonialism, Christianity, nationalism, and modernity and engaged with the needs of the society at large and transformed yoga, while Āraṇya’s response seems to have been to withdraw into orthodoxy and finally isolation in a cave.

Dr. Shruti Kapila

Vivekananda and the spirit of India: This paper considers the role of Swami Vivekananda in the creation of a new and dominant understanding of India. Vivekananda is often associated with the emergence of Hinduism as a ‘world religion’ and some have cast him as the ‘father of Hindutva’. But he was both more and less than a protagonist either of Hinduism or Hindutva. I argue that his major impact was to constitute India as a psychological category with particular affects and attributes. Intervening in long-standing debates on ‘the self’ (atmapurusha), neo-Hinduism for Vivekanand emanated from a new theory and practice of the subject. Vivekananda certainly projected India as a world-historical category in the global time of the ‘common man.’ But, whereas he spoke of the coming ‘age of the Sudra’, he evaded and obfuscated what many regarded as the critical feature of Hinduism and India, namely the caste system itself. This is what earned him the hostility, not just of later socialist, but more particularly of Ambedkar and the dalits. This paper considers the debates and implications of the connected concepts of the self, nation and religion that were sought to be equivalent. There is no doubting that his appearance at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, his debates with Dharmapala a Christian spokesman, and foundation of the Ramakrishna Mission marked the emergence of Hinduism as a ‘world religion’ and through it, India, first as a moral and later as a political force. But his legacy to modern India has been both its spiritual aggrandisement and also its moral evasions.

Dr. Viktoria Lysenko

Vivekananda’s challenge to the World Congress of Religions: universalism or/and inclusivism: I will try to compare the ‘universalist’ stance of the American organisers of this Congress, on the one hand, with that of Vivekananda in his famous speech to the Congress, on the other

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan

‘But Who Do You Say I Am?’ A Critical Evaluation of Swami Vivekananda’s Answer to Jesus’ Question: In the Gospel according to Mark (8:29) Jesus asks his disciples the question that is at the center of Christology, or disciplined reflection on his nature and significance. Christology, from the earliest times, has offered a diversity of answers to his fundamental question. What is often overlooked, however, is the fact that such reflection is not limited to the world of the Christian tradition. Swami Vivekananda constructs a distinctive Christology, drawing from the resources of the Advaita tradition to offer a unique answer Jesus’ question. My paper will describe Vivekananda’s Christology and its sources in the tradition of Advaita, while critically appraising its contribution in the context of his theology of religious diversity and the Christian theological tradition.

Short Biographies for Invited Internatoinal Speakers – Vivekananda Conference

Knut A. Jacobsen is the Professor of History of Religions at AHKR (IKRR) University of Bergen. Among his recent publications in English are: Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: Salvific Space and Kapila: Founder of Sāṃkhya and Avatāra of Viṣṇu. His recent edited books are five volumes of Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism and four volumes of Routledge’s Modern Indian Culture and Society. Professor Knut A. Jacobsen has published extensively in English and Norwegian languages on themes including Sāṃkhya-Yoga Traditions, Buddhist Sacred Space in Contemporary India, South Asian Diasporas in Norway, religious processions in South Asia, religion, history, and nonviolence in Jainism and in Sikhism.

Dr. Shruti Kapila lectures in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge and is Fellow and Director of Studies at Corpus Christi College. She is a historian of modern India, and her primary interests and publications lie in intellectual history, political thought, and the history of science, concerning questions of subjectivity, including race and psychoanalysis, as well as of violence and political formations. She is editor of An Intellectual History for India (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and co-editor of Political Thought in Action: The Bhagavad Gita and Modern India (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and author of a forthcoming book, Formations of the Political: Violence, Nonviolence and the Indian Twentieth Century.

Dr. Viktoria Lysenko is the Head of the Department of Oriental Philosophies, Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences and •Professor at the Russian State University for Humanities (Moscow). Her researches focus on the history of Indian philosophy, and comparative philosophy. Recent books in English include Classical Indian Philosophy Reintepreted and in Russian, Mediated Perception: Controversy between Buddhist and Brahmanic Philosophers. Professor Viktoria Lysenko has published about 200 papers in Russian, English and French on a wide range of themes including comparative philosophy in the Soviet Union, atomistic modes of thinking, cross-cultural studies, Ayurveda and the philosophical schools of Vaisheshika and Sаmkhya, Aristotle’s Mean and Buddha’s Middle Path, knowledge and faith in Early Buddhism, the mind-body problem in Buddhism, Shankara, Buddhist philosophy, Word and Being in the teaching of Bharthari on Action, Buddhist atomism, perception and corporeality in Buddhism, modern cognitive theories of the embodied mind, Orientalism and the problem of the ‘alien’.

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan is Professor of Religion at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota, USA. His books include, Accomplishing the Accomplished: The Vedas as a Source of Valid Knowledge in Śaṅkara, The Limits of Scripture: Vivekananda’s Reinterpretation of the Authority of the Vedas, The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity and A Hindu Theology of Liberation: Not-Two is Not One (forthcoming). Professor Rambachan has published extensively on Swami Vivekananda focusing on his spirituality, theology of religions, science and religion, religion and reason, the meaning of Hindu identity, and his engagement with Christianity. Professor Rambachan has a special interest in the dialogue between religions and especially between the Hindu and Christian traditions.