Hinduism comprises perhaps the major cluster of religio-cultural traditions of India, and it can play a valuable role in helping us understand the nature of religion and human responses to life. Hindu image-worship lies at the core of what counts for Hinduism – up-front and subject to much curiosity and misunderstanding, yet it is a defining feature of this phenomenon.
This book focuses on Hindu images and their worship with special reference to Vaiṣṇavism, a major strand of Hinduism. Concentrating largely, but not exclusively, on Sanskritic source material, the author shows in the course of the book that Hindu image-worship may be understood via three levels of interpretation: the metaphysical/theological, the narratival or mythic, and the performative or ritual. Analysing the chief philosophical paradigm underlying Hindu image-worship and its implications, the book exemplifies its widespread application and tackles, among other topics such as the origins of image-worship in Hinduism, the transition from Vedic to image worship, a distinguishing feature of Hindu images: their multiple heads and limbs. Finally, with a view to laying the grounds for a more positive dialogic relationship between Hinduism and the "Abrahamic" faiths, which tend to condemn Hindu image-worship as "idolatry", the author examines the theological explanation and justification for embodiment of the Deity in Hinduism and discusses how Hinduism might justify itself against such a charge.
Rich in Indological detail, and with an impressive grasp of the philosophical and theological issues underlying Hindu material culture, and image-worship, this book will be of interest to academics and others studying theology, Indian philosophy and Hinduism.
Table of Contents
Introduction: On the Object and Scope of our Inquiry
1. "The heathen in his blindness….": Methodological Considerations
2. In Retrospect: The Trajectory of Image-Worship in the Light of Yāmuna’s Āgamaprāmāṇya
3. On Conceptualizing the Foundations of Hindu Image-Worship
4. The Sāṃkhya Paradigm re-configured and re-imagined: Three Further Illustrations
5. The Art of the Possible: On Establishing a Convention
6. Hindu dharma and the Making of Images
7. On the Sense and Sensibility of Hindu Religious Art
8. Deity Embodied: a Theological Consideration of the Form, Worship and Meaning of Hindu Images
Julius J. Lipner is Professor Emeritus of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion in the University of Cambridge, UK, and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is the author of a number of books, including Hindus: their religious beliefs and practices (2nd edition, Routledge, London, 2010).