3/28: Saintly “Miracles” and Yogic “Magic”: The Ethics of Wonder in North Indian Devotional Traditions

Dr. Patton Burchett, Assistant Professor, College of William & Mary

Thursday, March 28th, 7:00 pm

Olmsted Center, Sussman Theater

This talk examines a series of miracle stories in the hagiographical literature of the Sufi and Hindu bhakti traditions of early modern north India in order to highlight some fascinating parallels between Sufi and Hindu bhakti religious attitudes. Dr. Burchett offers a provocative hypothesis: that the category of the “miracle”—broadly shared across the “Abrahamic” traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and defined in contradistinction to the category of “magic”—does not exist in the Hindu tradition until the influence of Islam on Hindu devotional communities in Mughal India. In exploring the miracles of Sufi and Hindu devotee-saints, this lecture investigates the role of ethics in categorizing different forms of wonder (e.g., as “miracle” versus “magic”) and examines the way that the specific narrative form of the miracle story often functions to cultivate virtues and ethical dispositions in its audiences.

Patton Burchett is Assistant Professor at the College of William & Mary. Prof. Burchett’s research focuses primarily on early modern devotional (bhakti) and tantric-yogic religiosity in north India. He is developing a new book project on yoga and the interrelations of magic, science, and religion in the rise of Indian and Western modernities. Burchett’s first book, A Genealogy of Devotion: Bhakti, Tantra, Yoga, and Sufism in North India, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press in May 2019.

Video of lecture

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