VISCOM, Tantric Communities in Context

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This subproject of VISCOM focuses on the socio-religious history of tantric communities in the early medieval period. Starting with the middle of the first millennium, South Asia saw the emergence and rise of Tantrism within all major religious traditions, including Śaivism, the Vaiṣṇava Pāñcarātra, the Buddhist Mantrayāna, and Jaina Tantra. While such initiatory communities appear to have initially constituted a marginal phenomenon, major scholarly advances in the past decades have shown on the basis of textual and epigraphical sources that these groups quickly extended their reach towards the wider public and in some cases even succeeded in forging close ties with the ruling elite. Despite the fact that tantric traditions grew to become such an integral part of the religious landscape, the social reality of how these initiatory groups were organized on the ground and concretely interfaced with the wider community of non-initiates or with competing traditions during this period is still little understood, partly due to the fact that the surviving tantric textual sources are prescriptive in nature and rarely intentionally address questions of social relevance. In order to address this gap, Nina Mirnig is working on organizing a three-day conference entitled “Tantric Communities in Context: Sacred Secrets and Public Rituals”, which aims to recover the socio-religious context within which these tantric groups negotiated their position in society and conceptualized their visions of community.

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