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Knowledge above Dogma: Being a Tantric Yogi Scholar in the Age of SBNR

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Abstract for Online Program Book (maximum 1200 characters including spaces)

In 2017 for the first time more people in the United States identified as “spiritual” than “religious”. This broad-spectrum identification might perhaps be viewed as the result of decades, if not centuries, of historical events that can be traced at least as far back to Luther’s defiant act in 1517 of hammering his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. In that moment, Luther set in motion the awareness that individuals can go against the tide, can stand up to institutional structures of authority, can say no to dogmatic assertions, can decide for themselves what they believe and practice. If spirituality can be defined as the core practices that lead to true wisdom or connection to the divine, then we might say that Luther established some 500 years ago that one could decide for him or herself what it means to be truly spiritual. But is the history of ‘being spiritual’ limited to the western genealogies? What about the history of spirituality in the East? How did the migration of Indian yogis and gurus to the West from the late 19th century on impact contemporary sensibilities of spirituality? And what does it mean to be a western scholar who is also an initiate of Dharma traditions? Drawing from a seminal essay by Thomas Metzinger from 2014 I intend to reflect on these and other relevant question as I explore the role that Dharma traditions have and continue to play in the shaping of this distinctive era in which traditional religions takes a back seat to a host of individualistic spiritualities. Critically assessing Metzinger’s claim that spirituality is the “opposite of religion” and is “aligned with science” I draw from a host of classical Sanskritic sources on Yoga and Tantra to illumine and nuance the idea that spirituality is a “quality of inner action” and a “mode of grounding” that constitutes a “specific epistemic stance” driven from a “desire for knowledge” (Metzinger 2014:6). Through my analysis I imagine the possibilities for how contemporary Western scholar-yogis might express their own ‘spirituality’ in ways that might expand and redefining how we pursue and understand ‘truth’ in an age that invites a Yogic transcendence of epistemic boundaries.

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