Université d'Erfurt


Dr. Rahul Bjorn Parson

Post-Doktorand am Max-Weber-Kolleg
von Mai bis Juli 2017




Merchants and Mendicants. Early Modern Jain Individualization

In the course of my dissertation research on Hindi literature in Bengal, I became closely acquainted with the Jaina philosophical principle of non-absolutism known as anekāntavāda or manypointedness. It allows for multiple claims on the truth according to differing perspectives. In Jain philosophy, anekāntavāda acknowledges the internal, perspective-based logic and intelligence of competing philosophical systems and thus facilitates an openness to benefit from the insights of other traditions. Indeed, to deny another tradition’s (albeit partial) claim to truth would mean making pretensions to omniscience (kevala jñāna). The idea is best illustrated by the parable of ‘the blind men and the elephant’ (adhgajanyāyah), wherein each man can reliably perceive only one portion of the total elephant. Early modern Jain thinkers began to rework anekāntavāda and syādavāda (conditionality of all judgments) from the arsenal of Jain philosophical concepts as a way to directly challenge the transmitted Jain orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and to conceptualize emergent social revolutions of the bhaktikāl (devotional era). I explore the participation and experiences of everyday people in these movements and also the themes of such people in the literature. I am drawn to merchants and monks because their itinerancy and networks suggest avenues for the dissemination of new currents of thought into a nascent ‘public sphere’. Jain thinkers are a superb starting point for thinking about individualization, subjectivity, and the self, particularly because individual perspectives (naya) tie in with one of the great debates of Jain philosophy, namely the contested meaning of anekāntavāda. The project at this stage considers three Jain figures who contributed extensively to the discussion of individual experience and a process of individualization: the merchant-poet Banārsīdās (1586-1643), the Śwetambar ascetic poet Ānandghan (circa 1624-1694), and the philosopher Yaśovijaya (1624-1688). I bring their work into conversation with one another and also the major trends of the epoch as they relate to individualization. Through itinerancy and exchange, merchants and mendicants may have played a major role in the production and dissemination of newly individualized notions of experience and epistemology in the early modern period.

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