God and Consciousness in
Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
Worcester College, University of Oxford, UK
May 15-17, 2024
Deadline: March 1, 2024
Divinity in some theistic (or theistically inclined) Indian religions is often conceived monotheistically, as a supreme OmniGod (much like in Western accounts of God). Monotheistic conceptions of God occur in Śaivism, Śaktism, Vaiṣṇavism, Sikhism as well as Indian reiterations of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. There are also arguably monotheistic concepts of God given by the Indian philosophical schools (darṣanas), such as Vedānta, Nyāya, Mīmāṃsā, and Yoga.
Despite the evidence for a general Indian religious disposition towards monotheism, Indian concepts of God can exhibit certain peculiarities that distance them from the traditional idea of monotheism. For example, some Indian conceptions of God revolve around God’s being united with the world and finite conscious beings in various ways. This is the heart of the famous Vedānta debate about the relationship between Brahman - the ultimate conscious reality - and the rest of existence, and of a wide variety of theistic views on the relation between ultimate conscious reality and the world. Interpretations range through idealism, qualified monism, dualism, and a mixture of monism and dualism (as in the different theories of bhedābheda, or difference and non-difference).
The reference to consciousness (in the expressions “conscious beings” and “ultimate conscious reality”) is not gratuitous. Philosophical Indian traditions such as Vedānta and Sāṅkhya have developed sophisticated ontological views on consciousness. These views have strongly influenced and been influenced by Indian theistic traditions. For example, in the Bhavagad Gītā - a key Vedānta text strongly informed by Sāṅkhya (or proto-Sāṅkhya) thought - matter is seemingly given a cognitive aspect that somehow intermediates the conscious experience of ordinary living beings. But the Gītā also says that God is the source (prabhava) of consciousness and matter. While matter and consciousness are fundamental aspects of reality, in God they have a common ontological ground. Depending on how a specific theistic tradition interprets this, its concept of God might imply some kind of theory of consciousness.
Against this background, two sets of questions arise, which in current debates are often overlooked or are only partially addressed. The first relates to the nature and tenability of concepts of God; the second concerns the nature of consciousness. On the first set of questions, one might ask:
Can concepts of God in Indian traditions be regarded monotheistic in the Western sense of the term? Or are they closer to panentheism, theistic pantheism, henotheism or polytheism?
What divine properties do the traditions ascribe to their respective divinity or sets of divinity?
Can the corresponding concepts of God be described in a consistent way? And Is it sensible to presuppose that they should be describable in such a way?
Do any of these concepts of God possess an advantage over Western philosophical accounts of God?
On the second set of questions, it could be asked:
Which views on consciousness are presupposed by Indian concepts of God?
How can these views be philosophically articulated?
What are their advantages and disadvantages compared to standard accounts of consciousness found in Western analytical philosophy?
Furthermore, are these accounts compatible with a scientific worldview? Can the concept of God contribute to a scientifically consistent theory of consciousness?
We invite submissions of contributed papers that address the above questions in relation to specific Indian traditions. Abstracts must have a maximum of 3000 characters and be written in English. They must be submitted by March 1, 2024, through the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject “Submission to the Oxford Conference”. In the body of the message, the author should state whether the paper will be presented in-person or online (preference will be given to in-person presentations). Notification of acceptance will be released on March 11, 2024.
Selected papers presented at the conference will be published in one of the publications of the project, including the journal special issue on “Indian Theistic Traditions and the Philosophical Debate on Consciousness” which is being edited by Benedikt Paul Göcke (Ruhr University Bochum) and Swami Medhananda (UCLA and University of Southern California).
The conference is hosted by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.
Alan Herbert, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, UK (chair)
Gabriel Reis de Oliveira, Saint Louis University, USA
Ricardo Sousa Silvestre, Federal University of Campina Grande, Brazil (chair)
Yujin Nagasawa, University of Birmingham, UK
Monima Chadha, Monash University, Australia
Swami Medhananda, UCLA and University of Southern California, USA
Ananya Barua, University of Delhi, India
Dilip Loundo, University of Juiz de Fora, Brazil
This the first conference of the project Concepts of God and the Variety of Theisms in Indian Traditions: Towards a Theistic Theory of Consciousness, hosted by the Brazilian Association for the Philosophy of Religion and supported by funding totaling $260,000 from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in its talks are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.