“That From Which All Words Return”: The Distinctive Methods of Language Utilization in Hinduism’s Philosophical Tradition of Advaita Vedanta

Anantanand RambachanLecture by Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, St. Olaf College

Thursday, October 9, 7:00 p.m., Sussman Theater, Olmsted Center

Advaita is a non-dual Vedānta tradition within Hinduism, based on an exegesis of the
Upaniṣads, the final sections of the Vedas. Its principal systematizer and exponent is Śaṅkara (ca. 8th CE). Advaita regards the words of the Upanṣads as a valid source for our knowledge of the limitless (brahman). Speaking about brahman, however, is challenging. Brahman is not one object among other objects and is not available for observation through objectification. It possesses none of the characteristics through which words are usually able to describe a subject. Advaita offers a skillful mode of instruction about brahman, employing finite word-symbols to speak of the infinite. This lecture will consider this predicament and the methods employed in the texts and tradition to deal with the limits of language.

Anantanand Rambachan is Professor of Religion at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota, where he
has taught since 1985. 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. The British Broadcasting Corporation transmitted a series of 25 lectures on Hinduism by Professor Rambachan around the world.

Download Rambachan’s Powerpoint Presentation


When Expression Is Expressed, Non-Expression Is Not-Expressed: A Zen Buddhist Approach To Talking About The Ineffable

KopfThursday, September 18th, 7:00 p.m., Sussman Theater, Olmsted Center

Lecture by Gereon Kopf, Associate Professor of Religion, Luther College

Philosophy of religion as developed in the monotheistic traditions of Christianity and Islam explores the question as to if/how it is possible to talk about and predicate God. One of the answers to this question is negative theology, which claims that any predication of God in positive terms is impossible.The religious philosophies developed in the Zen Buddhist tradition has often been accused of rejecting any linguistic description of the absolute. While the rhetoric of silence is rather pervasive among Zen thinkers, it is often accompanied by a solid philosophy of language and even, to use a contemporary term, signification. Some Zen thinkers even go so far as to suggest that linguistic discourses on the absolute are not only possible but also necessary. One of them is the medieval Japanese Zen master Dōgen. To Dōgen language is one of the many possible ways to “express” and “manifest” what we call the “divine.” This talk will explore Dōgen’s philosophy of “expression” and suggest a new understanding of philosophy of religion on the basis of his thought.

Gereon Kopf received his Ph.D. from Temple University and is currently professor of Asian and comparative religion at Luther College. As a research fellow of the Japan Foundation and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, he conducted research in 1993 and 1994 at Obirin University
in Machida, Japan, and at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan, from 2002
to 2004. In the academic year of 2008-2009, he taught at the Centre of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong. He is the author of Beyond Personal Identity (2001), co-editor of
Merleau-Ponty and Buddhism (2009), and editor of the Journal of Buddhist Philosophy.

Student Comparisons and Evaluations (Spring 2014 Philosophy of Religion Course)

Professor Knepper’s Spring 2104 Philosophy of Religion course looked at discourses of ineffability in Chinese Daoism, West African Religion (of the dozos), Sikhism, and Christian mysticism.  In their final papers they were asked to describe and compare several of these discourses, then both to explain their commonalities and differences and to evaluate the general claim that ultimate beings and/or experiences are ineffable. Below are some of their final papers: