Othering Another 'Brahmin': A Jain Polemic in Translation

When and Where

Friday, March 11, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm


Heleen de Jonckheere


Pathbreakers: New Postdoctoral Research on South Asia at U of T

Speaker: Heleen De Jonckheere, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for South Asian Civilizations, UTM
Discussant: Srilata Raman, Department for the Study of Religion, Uof T
Chair: Christoph Emmrich, Department for the Study of Religion, Director, Centre for South Asian Studies, U of T

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Recent scholarship (e.g. Andrew Nicholson) has raised important arguments considering the unified idea of a Hindu religion. Also, the delineation of heterodox-orthodox, or āstika-nāstika, is not without debate. Viewed from the perspective of Jain narratives, the idea of the Brahmin or Brahmanical other exists. This Brahmin other is not unified in the sense that he expounds a single philosophical view, or adheres to a single set of gods, but he does belong to one group of religious followers that is different from the Jains as well as the Buddhists. This lecture aims at questioning what the term brāhmaṇa (Brahmin) or dvija (twice-born) means in the 'Examination of Religion' (Dharmaparīkṣā), a polemical narrative that comically criticizes the Hindu purāṇic stories. The 'Examination' exists in several adaptations composed between the 10th and 18th century in Northern and Southern Indian languages, including Sanskrit, Braj, and Kannada. A diachronic analysis of these versions suggests that a Brahmin was someone quite different for each specific author in his specific location. The idea of the Brahmin other seems to have depended on time and geography, but also social environment related to the audience. The choice of language is another factor that might have influenced the brāhmaṇa's depiction. This lecture will probe whether we can speak of a more or less unified Brahmin, or whether the term serves as a catch-all category of other for Jain authors. Finally, the speaker will suggest how discussing Jain narrative literature can add to the larger issue concerning the term 'Hindu'. 
Heleen De Jonckheere (PhD Ghent University, 2020) is Bhagavan Shitalnath Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for South Asian Civilizations of the Department for Historical Studies, University of Toronto Mississauga. Her current research focuses on the idea of translation and adaptation in the Jain context and in South Asia in general, and on the religious implications of translation. Her further interests include Jain narrative literature, Jain polemics and Jain manuscript culture, as well as the interactions of popular forms of religiosity with more established forms of religion. 


Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, Asian Institute, Centre for South Asian Studies