Cultural appropriation is a highly charged concern in the world of contemporary spirituality, and modern yoga in particular; but all too often is ignored or dismissed. This is unsurprising because accusations of appropriation pose a discomforting threat to cherished spiritual-yogic identities, practices, and economies. However, “leaning into” this issue presents a unique opportunity to understand ourselves, our evolving world, and to engage in healing justice. Undoing appropriation directly contributes to the well-being of appropriated cultural communities. It is also a powerful means to embody virtues of compassion, care, and equanimity, which transform our minds and practice.
This course will provide a contemplative space for this deep but challenging process. Together we will explore the different voices, histories, complex entanglements, and underlying ecologies comprising cultural appropriation; and we will engage contemplative pedagogies from classical yogic knowledge systems to begin the process of undoing appropriation, decolonizing yoga, and freeing ourselves from ingrained patterns of colonization. This process is vital for both those who may be complicit with appropriation and those who identify themselves and their religious culture as victims of appropriation. While this course provides an entry into the broader issues of appropriation, our focus will be its expressions in modern Yoga and the South Asian diaspora.
Neil Dalal is the Director of Religious Studies at the University of Alberta, where he teaches in both the Philosophy Department and Religious Studies Program. He received his PhD in Asian Cultures and Languages from the University of Texas at Austin where he specialized in Sanskrit and Indian philosophy, and an MA in East-West Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Dalal's interests explore philosophy of mind, contemplative psychologies, and meditation practices found in classical South Asian Yoga systems. He grounds this research in classical Sanskrit texts and commentaries as well as their living traditions. Dalal's current research focuses on the intersections of contemplative practices, textual study, and embodiment in Advaita Vedanta. He is the co-director of Gurukulam (The Orchard/Sony Pictures), a sensory-ethnographic study of a contemporary Advaita Vedanta community, co-editor of Asian Perspectives on Animal Ethics (Routledge Press), and has published articles in venues such as the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Journal of Indian Philosophy, and Journal of Hindu Studies. Dalal is also a teacher within the traditional lineage of _a_kar_c_ryaÕs Advaita Ved_nta. He spent several years living a monastic lifestyle in India while studying under the direct guidance of the renowned Advaita Vedantin, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who gave him permission to teach in 2002.