Ferdinando Sardella: Modern Hindu Personalism

The History, Life, and Thought of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati

Oxford University Press, December 2012 (estimated)     Amazon.com

From the publisher’s website:

– This is the first monograph about the life and thought of a key religious figure of modern Hinduism

– It questions the perception of an alleged nondualistic (monistic) essence within modern Hinduism and presents an alternative view

– It contributes to a global history of bhakti movements in the modern period

– It presents an important aspect of the modern development of Vaishnavism in Bengal based on little known or previously unknown primary sources in Bengali and other languages

– It provides a comprehensive history of the roots in Bengal of the Hare Krishna movement

– It fills a gap in the history of the interactions between India and the West during the colonial period with particular reference to Britain and Germany

Modern Hindu Personalism explores the life and works of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati (1874-1937), a Vaishnava guru of the Chaitanya school of Bengal. Ferdinando Sardella examines Bhaktisiddhanta’s background, motivation and thought, especially as it relates to his forging of a modern traditionalist institution for the successful revival of Chaitanya Vaishnava bhakti. Originally known as the Gaudiya Math, that institution not only established centers in both London (1933) and Berlin (1934), but also has been indirectly responsible for the development of a number of contemporary global offshoots, including the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna movement). Sardella provides the historical background as well as the contemporary context of the India in which Bhaktisiddhanta lived and functioned, in the process shedding light on such topics as colonial culture and sensibilities, the emergence of an educated middle-class, the rise of the Bengal Renaissance, and the challenge posed by Protestant missionaries. Bhaktisiddhanta’s childhood, education and major influences are examined, as well as his involvement with Chaitanya Vaishnavism and the practice of bhakti. Sardella depicts Bhaktisiddhanta’s attempt to propagate Chaitanya Vaishnavism internationally by sending disciples to London and Berlin, and offers a detailed description of their encounters with Imperial Britain and Nazi Germany. He goes on to consider Bhaktisiddhanta’s philosophical perspective on religion and society as well as on Chaitanya Vaishnavism, exploring the interaction between philosophical and social concerns and showing how they formed the basis for the restructuring of his movement in terms of bhakti. Sardella places Bhaktisiddhanta’s life and work within a taxonomy of modern Hinduism and compares the significance of his work to the contributions of other major figures such as Swami Vivekananda. Finally, Bhaktisiddhanta’s work is linked to the development of a worldwide movement that today involves thousands of American and European practitioners, many of whom have become respected representatives of Chaitanya bhakti in India itself.

Author Information:

Ferdinando Sardella is a researcher and the Director for the Forum for South Asia Studies for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Uppsala University. He is a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. In 2010 he received the Donner Institute Prize for outstanding research in the field of Religious Studies at the Åbo Akademi University in Finland.

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All original writing © Jan Olof Bengtsson
"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
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