Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

7/1/2011 - 6/30/2012

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Dialogues with Krishna: The Bhagavad Gita in Great Time

FAIN: FB-55821-11

Richard H. Davis
Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504-9800)

I request an NEH College Teacher Fellowship for completion of a book-length historical study of the life of the Bhagavad Gita, both in its own compositional setting and as it has been received, re-situated, and reemployed by later listeners and readers in medieval and modern times. Composed around the start of the Common Era, the Bhagavad Gita is the best known of all Hindu religious texts, and it has deeply engaged audiences in India and in the West over many centuries. My aim in "Dialogues with Krishna" is to present a selective history of the ways Krishna's dialogue with Arjuna recorded in the Bhagavad Gita has spoken to audiences in its own time and over subsequent centuries. Through sustained examination of a series of dialogues of later listeners and readers with this particular religious work, both within its own religious tradition and beyond, I seek to make a contribution to the way we view the interpretation of long-lived religious works generally.

Media Coverage

war and peace in the bhagavad gita (Review)
Author(s): Wendy Doniger
Publication: New York Review of Books
Date: 12/4/2014

Associated Products

Bhagavad Gita: A Biography (Book)
Title: Bhagavad Gita: A Biography
Author: Richard H. Davis
Abstract: na
Year: 2015
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Type: Single author monograph
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes

Introduction; Afterword (Book Section)
Title: Introduction; Afterword
Author: Richard H. Davis
Author: Stanley Lombardo
Abstract: Stanley Lombardo's new verse translation of the most famous free-standing sequence from the great Indian epic The Mahabharata hews closely to the meaning, verse structure, and performative quality of the original and is invigorated by its judicious incorporation of key Sanskrit terms in transliteration, for which a glossary is also provided. The translation is accompanied by Richard H. Davis' brilliant Introduction and Afterword. The latter, "Krishna on Modern Fields of Battle," offers a fascinating look at the illuminating role the poem has played in the lives and struggles of a few of the most accomplished figures in recent world history.
Year: 2019
Publisher: Hackett Publishing
Book Title: Bhagavad Gita
ISBN: 9781624667893

Henry David Thoreau, Yogi (Article)
Title: Henry David Thoreau, Yogi
Author: Richard H. Davis
Abstract: Thoreau was likely the first American to entertain seriously the possibility of identifying himself as a yogi. “Depend upon it that rude and careless as I am, I would fain practice the yoga faithfully,” he wrote to his friend Harrison Blake in 1849: “To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogin.” But what did he mean in saying so? Thoreau’s understanding of the term yoga derived entirely from ancient Indian texts. In the 1840s, he read avidly and empathetically in key Indic works such as the Laws of Manu and the Bhagavad Gita. Drawing on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s notion of “one mind” as a hermeneutical principle, Thoreau sought to overcome temporal and spatial distance in his reading and to integrate ideas and practices of these Hindu texts from ancient India selectively within his own life. Listening to the voices of Indic sages reinforced Thoreau’s own inclinations toward austerity and equanimity. They gave him a foundation for his life experiments in voluntary simplification and yogic contemplation at Walden Pond. This essay, which is a contribution to the Common Knowledge symposium on xenophilia, traces Thoreau’s engagement with ancient Indian works during the 1840s and contrasts his way of reading with those of other scholars during the period. The hermeneutic of “one mind” was the foundation of his xenophilic reading.
Year: 2018
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Common Knowledge