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Clay Jars, Leaves of Grass and Viruses: how an 11th century Indian yogi can help a New Materialism sort through our Ecological Crisis

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Event Details:

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for South Asia and the Department of Religious Studies.

About the webinar:
With increasing concern over an impending ecological maelstrom, the decimation of insect populations, increasing temperatures, New Materialism as a field of study suggests that the key to solving our ecological crisis hinges on shifting deeply embedded attitudes toward matter and the material world. That is, if we want to stop destroying the matter and life of our world, we need to change our attitudes towards matter. In this paper I suggest that New Materialism might profit from the thought of a brilliant 11th century Indian thinker, Abhinavagupta. Abhinavagupta offers a novel theory of selfhood and sentience—for his own world, as a way to solve the thorny conundrum of the mind-body gap, a problem these medieval Indians faced, no less than us today. His model of sentience, relying on a first-person perspective (ahantā), offers a way of thinking through our own fraught relations with matter and materiality.


Speaker's bio:
Loriliai Biernacki is Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research interests include medieval Sanskrit texts, the subtle body, Indian philosophy, New Materialism, gender, and the interface between religion and science. She is currently working on neuroscientific models of body-mind connection, including Integrated Information Theory (IIT). Her first book, Renowned Goddess of Desire: Women, Sex and Speech in Tantra(Oxford, 2007) won the Kayden Award in 2008. She is co-editor of God’s Body: Panentheism across the World’s Religious Traditions (Oxford 2013).  Her most recent work, The Matter of Wonder: Abhinavagupta’s Panentheism and New Materialism (Oxford 2023) is on the writings of the medieval Indian mystic and philosopher Abhinavagupta and their relevance for a contemporary science and New Materialism.

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