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Tantric Studies Unit

Call for Proposals

We invite papers on the following topics:

● Tantra in the "Me Too" Era
(contact: Christa Kuberry

● Yoga and Tantra
(contact: Ben Williams

● Tantra and Bhakti
(contact: Seth Ligo

● Tantra in Bengal and Assam: Śāktas, Bāuls, Sahajiyās, Yogis and Faqirs
(contact: June McDaniel )

● Gender Performance in Tantra
(contact: Patricia Sauthoff

● Tantra and Film
(contact: Rachel McDermott

● Tantra and Ritual Language
(contact: Jackson Stephenson

Preformed paper panels are encouraged, and may be structured to fill 2.5-hour or 1.5-hour session meeting times. Individual paper proposals are also sometimes accommodated in the program, though this depends on the availability of timings for paper presentations. Panel or paper proposals may engage any topic or concern, with the above being only some of the possibilities that were proffered at the Tantric Studies Business Meeting during the 2019 AAR Annual Meeting.

Statement of Purpose

This Unit brings together scholars who utilize a range of methodological and theoretical perspectives in their studies of the complex religious, social, and cultural phenomena known collectively as tantra. “Tantra” refers to a range of esoteric religious traditions that developed in India and were disseminated throughout Asia during the first millennium CE. These diverse traditions have used mental and bodily disciplines, devotional and ritual practices, and gendered cosmologies, and have created elaborate artistic as well as sociopolitical systems. The collective study of tantra has led to several important conclusions:

• The demonstrated diversity of tantric practices and ideologies demands a plurality of methods, theories, and interpretative strategies by scholars
• These richly varied tantric traditions became, by the twelfth century CE, central to many Asian religious and sociopolitical systems, including those of India, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Cambodia, Japan, and China
• Various traditional Asian forms of tantra have been brought to the Western world since the early twentieth century and are undergoing a vital process of reinterpretation and appropriation

Our goal is to provide a venue for scholars of different areas of tantric studies to collaborate across traditional boundaries of religious traditions (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism), present-day nation-states, geography (e.g., India, Tibet, China, Japan), and academic disciplines (e.g., history of religions, anthropology, art history, linguistics, sociology). We seek to be a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary enterprise. Tantra as a set of practices — a religious technology — and as a set of doctrines explaining, justifying, and rationalizing those practices, in fact, exists across religious, national, and geographical boundaries. For example, an adequate understanding of Japanese Tantric Buddhist practice and doctrine requires not only locating it in an East Asian Buddhist context but also in an Indian and South Asian context where the juxtaposition of Buddhist and Hindu tantras can fruitfully reveal aspects that might otherwise remain obscured. Similarly, by setting Buddhist materials in relation to Hindu traditions — both of which might otherwise be seen either as uniquely Hindu or Buddhist — will be highlighted as part of a broader, shared tantric discourse. This Unit will also allow scholars to present new methodologies for the study of tantra and help to bridge more traditional academic approaches, such as textual-based and fieldwork-based studies. We seek to further the study of tantra as a global, transnational phenomena and as an important new religious movement. Finally, the Unit will also explore new perspectives for studies of gender, power, identity, and sexuality that are so germane to modern religious scholarship.


Steering Committee Members





Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members

Review Process Comments

We regularly accept panels exclusively as the result of the straight rankings of proposals by Steering Committee members. We try to accommodate as many quality presentations as possible, and coordinate with other Units to add to our regular AAR sessions. We believe the anonymous review that has run in the Tantric Studies Unit over the last decade-plus has served the unit well; it offers an equitable and constructive assessment of the proposals and allows us to select the best among them. Note that sometimes we dig into individual paper proposals to find the best possible items for the program. There have been occasions when we structured our own panel out of the loose, individual proposals to facilitate entrance into the program of the best proposals. This year, we elected only to choose pre-formed panels, because the better proposals were to be found with them.