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Tantra and the global religious history of the 19th and 20th century

This project aims at reconstructing the genealogy of a philosophical Tantra that distances itself from sexual practices, within the context of contemporary debates about the relationship between science, politics, and religion. This reconstruction will be carried out in the context of a global religious history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It will focus on the British colonial judge, esotericist and Tantra scholar John Woodroffe (1865-1936). Although it has received little scholarly attention, Woodroffe's oeuvre was of decisive importance for the global reception of a philosophical Tantra, both in "esoteric" and academic contexts.

An extensive analysis of Woodroffe's writings seeks to elaborate his understandings of Tantra, religion and science in the contexts of Indology/Religionswissenschaft, Advaitic Neo-Hinduism, esotericism, and Bengali Reform Tantra. Following on from this, theosophical discourses about Tantra in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, on which Woodroffe depended, will be discussed, in order to understand his ideas as a product of previous global exchanges. On this basis, the double reception of Woodroffe in science and esotericism from the first half of the twentieth century onward will be examined, with a special focus on the construction and transgression of boundaries between these discourses. Finally, the respective discourses about Tantra will be discussed in a global context of religious history.

Researcher: Dr. Julian Strube

Funding: German Research Foundation (DFG)
Project duration: 2016-2019