Philosophy vs Theology or Liberal vs Orthodox?

A few days back when a fellow Stephanian shared an article mentioning that the St Stephen’s College in Delhi is thinking of ‘replacing’ its Philosophy course with Theology, I became immediately concerned about a number of things. Of course the first thing to create unease was how could an educational institute of the repute of St Stephen’s even think about something like this. But immediately afterwards I also concluded that these decision-makers themselves have no clarity about the stark distinction between Philosophy and Theology as two separate academic disciplines (I offer the benefit of doubt by calling ‘Theology’ an academic discipline even if not in a very strict sense). I do not see anything wrong for an educational institution to function autonomously as far as they do not turn that place into a meaningless space of redundant hegemony where rationality is not offered any room. Nor is there anything wrong in introducing the study of Theology as far as it is done within the parameters of academic (and thus rational) code of conduct and does not end up producing radical minds instead of liberal minds. But to think of doing this at the cost of Philosophy is indeed meaningless. 

It is not simply about Philosophy versus Theology, it is also about liberal versus orthodox study of a certain discipline. By no means am I suggesting that the study of Theology cannot be done liberally. In fact, this is precisely we have ‘Religious Studies’ (social scientific study of various religious traditions) constructed as an academic discipline (even if such disciplines do not generally find place in Indian universities). Here I wonder, if the torch bearers of St Stephen’s would have thought of replacing Religious studies (that does not exist in St Stephen’s anyway) with Theology or vice versa, it would still have made some logical sense. But to think of removing Philosophy and introducing Theology instead, holds no ground in rationality. 

Any rational being would know that Philosophy is the backbone discipline for all other disciplines. All disciplines work under the rubrics of a philosophy (thus we have philosophy of history, philosophy of economics or philosophy of sociology) and when Philosophy itself is discussed as a discipline, we talk about the meta-philosophical investigations, in other words—how is the philosophy of philosophy done. While philosophy as a discipline is not preoccupied with the idea of God alone, Theology falls under a very myopic domain of Philosophy that is concerned with the philosophy of God alone. The sphere of Philosophy is endless, while for Theology it is restricted to the study of God and God alone. You can literary philosophise everything. Everything can be an object of a philosophical inquiry including God, sex, food, gender so on and so forth. 

Traditionally, the study of Theology has been associated with a more orthodox approach towards the study of God (even though there is a difference between how Theology of various religious traditions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc. is practised in universities and how it is done in orthodox traditional schools like seminaries, temples and mosques etc.) and everything falling within the domain of God including the ideas related to religion, spirituality etc. For Philosophy, however, everything is a problem and it tries to seek an answer to those problems. The existence of God or Absolute is also a philosophical (and not a theological) problem for them and that is precisely how they approach seeking an answer to this problem. Theology is traditionally restricted and even though it engages with the ideas of divine and sacred, it does not really problematise them and the antithesis created by the idea of profane (as opposed to sacred) is of no much concern for them. In a sense pure Philosophy begins where Theology ends. However, if Theology is to be understood as the rational analysis of the concept of God, then there is no need to distinguish between Theology and the ‘Problem of God’ as usually discussed in Philosophy at the first place. Philosophy does not focus on Philosophy of Religion alone. Like everything else, Philosophy does problematise the idea of God as well because it is not simply satisfied by the idea of the existence of the God alone.

A domain of study (a certain religion/religious ideology/religious culture) might be orthodox or absolutely unorthodox in itself, but we as academics cannot afford not to interpret it liberally. When we practice a discipline, we cannot practice it unidimensionally. We have to develop a multidimensional method to study it. It cannot be God and religion alone that I need to philosophise, I got to philosophise the social, literary, political ideas about God and religion as well. Besides, to begin with, I need to problematise these ideas in themselves outside the domain of religion. I can ignore them only if I accept that I am developing myself into an orthodox philosopher which is an oxymoron in itself. I might be religious to the core, but if I possess a sincere Will to study that religious traditional ‘critically’ (or liberally) then occasionally I should also be willing to be ready to step outside that belief system or in fact to step outside myself as a believer. If this is not acceptable to us, then we should also learn to remain content with whatever little we know without aspiring to know more about it and without claiming to be critical about it. Essentially, I should be willing to, as if, coming out of myself (again only occasionally) and looking at myself from outside me (possibly from a distance). This is what a philosopher would call a self-reflective or self-critical thought process or state of mind.

There is always a danger if one is dogmatic about Divine—it might produce radical minds, and to be philosophically critical about Divine might make the process of being undogmatic (and thus a strong believer in oneself) smoother. Unfortunately, academics all over India seems to be coming under the sway of ‘radical states of mind’ rather than ‘self-critical states of mind’. On the one hand where certain Indian academics are boasting (and rightly so) of brining revolutionary changes to Indian academic system even if so far only at a minuscule level, yet on another hand what public university systems are facing at the hands of the Power they are tied up with, is something to deeply ponder over. And to ponder about it, we need a systematic way of thinking—Philosophy.

Mrinal Kaul studied Sanskrit at St Stephen’s College, Delhi and is now Assistant Professor in Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal.


Scholars, not guardians

Sanskrit scholarship must not be trapped in outsider/insider dichotomy. Its task is to understand tradition, engage with other systems.

Article Link:

Dhvani Workshop, New Delhi (March 4-8, 2018)

Organized by

The Abhyas Trust, New Delhi

The Abhyas Trust invites applications for a week-long Workshop on the Dhvani Theory from March 4-8, 2018,  at New Delhi.

The workshop will commence with a public lecture by Prof C Rajendran, titled Resonance Beyond: The Aesthetics of Dhvani, at the Gulmohar Hall, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on 3rd March 2018, at 7 p.m.

About the Workshop

This workshop will principally include a close textual reading of selections from the Dhvanyāloka of Ānandavardhana—the celebrated work on Indian literary theory—together with the Locana commentary of Abhinavagupta. The Dhvanyāloka deals with the entire gamut of signification in poetic language, arguing that great literature always communicates through suggestion (dhvani). Another salient feature of the work is that it offers a broad-based aesthetic theory relevant in other art forms like music, drama and painting. The workshop will focus on select passages of the text and explain its sense in English putting Ānandavardhana’s work in proper perspective. The aim of the workshop is to familiarize the participants with core themes in the text of the Dhvanyāloka so that the necessary theoretical background could be created to explore its aesthetic dimensions, which could broaden their horizons of thought and enhance their artistic sensibilities as creative artists and connoisseurs of art.

Deadline for Application:  Tuesday 30 January, 2018

Program and Faculty

Professor C. Rajendran, University of Calicut, Calicut will be the principal instructor. We are also expecting a few other experts of Indian aesthetics to join us. The morning and afternoon sessions will include the readings of the text in Sanskrit followed by special lectures in the evening by various experts in the field of Indian aesthetics. The seminar will be held in English and readings will be circulated in advance. The workshop will be preceded by a special lecture by Prof Rajendran on the topic Resonances Beyond: The Aesthetics of Dhvani on 3rd March 2018 to set the workshop in motion. This special lecture will also serve as an introduction to the workshop and all participants are mandatorily expected to attend. There will also be an evening lecture by Prof. Parul Dave Mukerji (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) who will talk about the Indian aesthetics from the lens of comparative aesthetics. Prof. Milind Wakankar (IIT-New Delhi) and Dr. Malcolm Keating (Yale-NUS College in Singapore) will also deliver lectures. A special performance will also be organized during the workshop.

Confirmed Scholar Participants

Prof. Parul Dave Mukerji, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Dr. Mrinal Kaul, Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal, Karnataka

Dr. Malcolm Keating, Yale-NUS College in Singapore

Prof. Milind Wakankar, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi

Selection Criteria

Though a rudimentary knowledge of the Sanskrit language on part of the participants would definitely help, the workshop does not presuppose any theoretical background of textual scholarship. We seek interested research students and scholars from across India and abroad. The selection will be made based on the strength of the application. We cannot accept more than 25 participants  and the priority will be given to the applications from research scholars in disciplines or with experience in Sanskrit, Philosophy, Aesthetics, Yoga, Performing Arts, Religion and Literature. There will be a participation fee for all participants. Applicants will be informed about the decision of selection after the deadline of application.

Location and Accommodations

The event will be held at Studio Abhyas, 112 Anand Lok (basement), New Delhi. Centrally located in South Delhi, the studio is close to all the major cultural venues of the capital and easily accessible; it is also close to the Metro line. A registration fee will be charged that includes a working lunch, tea/coffee with snacks for the five days of the workshop. Travel cost will not be reimbursed. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to offer accomodation.

Registration Fees

Registration is mandatory for attending the workshop. No participation without due registration will be allowed.

Regular Participants: Rs. 4000

Student Participants: Rs. 3000

Application Information

Applications should include the following, preferably sent as PDFs:

1. Description of research interests and their relevance to the topic of the workshop (max. 300 words)

2. Brief Curriculum Vitae / resume highlighting relevant skills, experience and training.

Applications should be sent to:

Navtej Johar

(Convenor-Workshop on the Dhvani Theory)

Studio Abhyas

F 27 Green Park, New Delhi 110016


email: <>

Tel +91-981-888-2918

For more information please contact Studio Abhyas

Call for Participation: (ICPR) Workshop on Trika Philosophy of Kashmir, Lucknow (February 15 – 28, 2018)

Workshop on Trika Philosophy of Kashmir

(Reading of Abhinavagupta’s Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-vimarśinī Jñādhikāra: Last Four Chapters)

 The Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR) is organizing a fourteen-day workshop from February 15 – 28, 2018 on Pratyabhijñā philosophy, the epistemological school of the Trika Śaivism. The workshop constitutes the Phase-II of the Level Three annual workshop as part of the four-year programme that aims at studying-in-depth the entire text of the Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-vimarśinī by the celebrated Abhinavagupta on his master Utpaladeva’s Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-kārikā, the path setting prasthāna text of the system. The sole purpose in the  phase-II is to cover the last 4 chapters of the Book on Knowledge called Jñādhikāra. In this part our masters deconstruct the established paradigms of Indian philosophical discourse (specially those of Buddhist logicians) and reconstruct a system of logic defined by life-affirming world-view via core concepts of Prakaśa, Vimarśa, Vikalpa, Vāk et al encompassing within their ambit issues of logic, language, metaphysics and aesthetics, fully underscoring the need of “bringing psychology in accord with metaphysics” (to borrow an expression from Prof. TRV Murti) as integrated within a robust system of philosophical discipline which could be construed as integral dynamic absolutism. Understood in this way, the Vimarśinī claiming to be a Samyak Vyākhyāna (proper and comprehensive exposition) of the original Pratyabhijñā-Kārīkas (a text in the āgamic tradition), offers a counter perspective to the prevalent narrative of Kashmir Śaivism as a tantra-based doctrinal school and projects Utpala and Abhinavagupta as logician-metaphysicians par excellence in their own right.

The workshop will primarily have two parts – namely, reading of the core text and concerted theme lectures covering the issues raised in the text and/or the prima facie stand-points necessary for navigating the text. The basic purpose of these workshops including the one in hand is to prepare the new generation of young Indian scholars in an area which is suffering from the acute scholarship-deficit by enabling them to have first hand exposure to the original thought structure and methodology of the masters through their primary textual articulations.

 The workshop will be conducted at the Lucknow Academic Centre of ICPR by Prof. Navjivan Rastogi, the Course Director and Coordinator, together with other eminent scholars such as Goswami Shyam Manohar ji, Professors K.D. Tripathi, Rajneesh Kr. Shukla, Mithilesh Chaturvedi, Ambikadatta Sharma, Sacchidanand Mishra, Prakash Pandey and Drs. Meera Rastogi, Balram Shukla and others. Besides participants would be encouraged to proactively interact among themselves. For this a few sessions could be exclusively earmarked.

Each day of the workshop will have two academic sessions i.e., from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a lunch break from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The workshop will be open to all those who are interested in Kashmir Śaivism. As such faculty members and research scholars in the departments of philosophy/Indian philosophy, departments of Sanskrit with philosophy as one of its courses (including Sanskrit Universities) and also those who are connected with academic centres and institutions operating in the similar field will be eligible to apply. However preference will be given to the participants of earlier workshops. The candidates must bear in their mind that this workshop constitutes the 2nd leg of a four-year workshop programme. Hence those candidates who have participated in earlier workshops and undertake to participate in future ones as well will claim preference.

Those interested should apply online here.

Deadline for application: 31 October 2017