Christian Lee Novetzke, University of Washington

The Political Theology of Bhakti, or When Devotionalism Meets Vernacularization    
Bhakti is an old idea, but it becomes something new when combined with the communicative possibilities of vernacular literary and public expression.  When the two met, a new public field of discourse opened up, a nascent public sphere, a precursor to the modern public sphere.  What was the ethics of this new public discourse created when bhakti met the vernacular?  What “theology” of bhakti came to inform and shape the cultural politics of the nascent vernacular public sphere?  Can we trace a political theology of bhakti that records and comments upon the cultural politics of everyday life in medieval India?

I’ll address these questions by drawing on materials from the earliest layer of Marathi literary vernacularization in the thirteenth century, when we have the first record of Marathi literature, which is also the first bhakti literature of Marathi.  The two texts I’ll examine are the Lilacharitra (c. 1278 CE) and the Jnaneshwari (c. 1290 CE), and perhaps some Marathi royal inscriptions of the 13th century as well.

Bio: Christian Lee Novetzke is Associate Professor of Religion, South Asia Studies, and Global Studies at the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) at the University of Washington (UW).  He is the Associate Director of JSIS and the Director of the Center for Global Studies.  Novetzke is the author of many articles and three books:  Religion and Public Memory (Columbia University Press, 2008); Amar Akbar Anthony:  Bollywood, Brotherhood, and the Nation, with co-authors William Elison and Andy Rotman (Harvard University Press, 2017); and The Quotidian Revolution:  Religion, Vernacularization, and the Premodern Public Sphere in Medieval India (Columbia University Press, 2017).  He is also writing a book entitled The Politics of Yoga, with Sunila S. Kale, to be published by Columbia University Press in 2019 (maybe).