Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth

Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth

Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth

Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth

Synopsis

"This work is a tour-de-force in cross-cultural scholarship, both sound and bold, constructing a new and refreshing theory on the rise to prominence of rebirth eschatology in India. Obeyesekere argues convincingly that 'ethicization' of rebirth through the theory of karma was the new ingredient that transformed a commonplace belief into a central philosophical and eschatological principle in most of Indian theologies. This is a book that will engage and challenge anthropologists, classicists, and Indologists alike, as well as non-specialists interested in culture and religion."--Patrick Olivelle, University of Texas at Austin

"This is a book in the grand tradition of comparative studies, pulling together anthropology, psychology, psychoanalysis, classics, Indology, and history of religions, but in a distinctly contemporary mode. Few scholars would attempt such a project today, let alone pull it off so intriguingly as Obeyesekere does. A brilliant and intellectually courageous book."--Paul B. Courtright, Emory University, author of "Ganesha, Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings

Excerpt

In this book I examine three eschatologies that until now have not been put together in any kind of systematic comparative perspective: the rebirth doctrines of small-scale societies in various parts of the world, such as West Africa, Melanesia, the Northwest Coast Amerindians, and the Inuit (Eskimo); those in the Buddhist, Jaina, and other religions that flowered in the Ganges valley around the sixth century b.c.e.; and those of the Greeks of the Pythagorean tradition of roughly the same period, which culminated in the soteriological and cosmological thought of Plato and of Plotinus in later times. I maintain that this material can be read at several levels. The comparative perspective can apply to each of three broad substantive domains that I deal with here. The rebirth theories of smallscale societies discussed in chapter 2 have structural similarities that derive to a considerable extent from their smallness. Take two ideas common to virtually all of these societies: first, a dead person will circle back to the same kin group; and second, a neonate can be identified as a specific ancestor returned. I show that although the first feature is applicable to every small-scale society in my sample, the second feature is absent among one of them, the Trobrianders. I demonstrate in my analysis that among Trobrianders it is meaningless to so identify the neonate, given this society's notion of ancestors as mostly anonymous beings. It would be logically and structurally impossible for Trobrianders to get interested in the issue of the identity of the neonate. I also show that among the smallscale societies mentioned in this work there is a fundamental difference . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.