April 3, 2023
May 3, 2023
On-Demand Course available April 3!
LIVE Q&A MAY 3 @ 7 PM ET. Convert your time here.
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The Supreme Goddess: An Embodied Theology of Elemental Enlightenment
The theological vision of the Divine as Mother, the Universal Goddess, once common, has almost disappeared from the world of religion. However, it has continued to flourish through the textual, liturgical, ethical, and theological traditions of God as Mother, as Creator, as Creation, over a span of 2,500 years in the world of Hindu spirituality. The tradition of Shakti/Mahādevī offers a multidimensional theological ethos that integrates transcendence and immanence, the masculine and feminine, life and liberation, dynamic creativity and contemplative tranquility, and the intuitive and empirical dimensions of experience. The course will explore the mystical narratives, sacred texts, theology, contemplative praxis, ritual art, and theories of consciousness and subtle energy associated with the theology of the Divine Feminine. We will explore the traditions, texts, and teachings of this rare theological path of the Divine Feminine, which still remains globally extant as a major branch of Hindu spiritual life.
Module 1: A Philosophy Of Divine Presence: The Expansive, Emancipatory Worldview Of Shakta Theology
People often associate the Mother Goddess with fertility rites and ancient icons with swollen forms, indicating the gift of life. But this aspect is far more subtle and sophisticated in Shakta theology because it owes its understanding of reality—material, physical, energetic, and creative—to philosophical principles honed over millennia. She is known as Devi (Divine Feminine); Mahadevi (Supreme Divine Feminine); Shakti (the Power, Force, Capacity, Creativity of the sacred source); and Brahman (Ultimate Reality). She is the fount of the process of creation, continual creativity itself, the consciousness that infuses the cosmos, and the cosmic dynamism and Earthy biodiversity that results. When the divine is understood to be innate in matter-energy, then She/He/It is latent within physical beings, hidden within sentience, and alive inside ecosystems and their inhabitants. All of these are understood to be endowed with intrinsic value. Embodied sacrality opposes all forms of oppression and injustice.
Module 2: The Story Of Shakta Bhakti : The Mystics Who Loved The Cosmic Mother
The Concept of the Supreme Goddess (Shakti), envisioned as the Source, Sustenance, and Support of the Universe, is nearly four millennia-old in Hindu experience. But Shakta Bhakti, the devotional loving surrender and service to the Divine Mother is relatively recent. It emerged between in the early modern period in the 17th century and became known internationally in the 20th century as the life story of the mystic Ramakrishna—the most renowned of the Shakti bhaktas—spread across cultures. With the arrival of modern Western scholarship on Hinduism, a broad and extensive study of the texts and festivals of the tradition of Mahadevi (lit. the Great Goddess) filtered into the reaches of yoga communities and into the quests of other spiritual seekers. But a indepth experience is difficult without access to an interlocutor with an internal understanding of the religious history and culture not only of Hinduism or India, but of West Bengal (a major state and sphere of cultural influence in India in medieval and modern India). We will not merely study this fascinating time and context; we will also explore the esoteric background of this period and the genesis of Shakta Bhakti.
Module 3: Fierce & Tender: The Universal Mother’s Love & Justice
The most famous text of the tradition of Shakti/Mahadevi is the Devī Māhātmyam (circa 500 CE) which sets forth—in rich, imaginative, fantastical narratives—the theology and theodicy of the Supreme Reality, the Divine Mother. This text combines ancient narratives, the concept of Mahadevi as Brahman (Supreme Reality), and Divine Mother who cares for and seeks justice for her creation. According to the tradition of this canonical sacred text, her justice is loving and liberative, and she dissolves the knots of ignorance, selfishness, and malevolence in the heart of beings. She does incarnate only in majestic forms, or even human ones, but states that she will return as a “Bee” at a time of great drought and lack of produce on Earth. The first Asian festival to be recognized as an Intangible Human Heritage is “Durga Puja,” the autumnal festival of the Great Goddess, Mahadevi, Shakti, in her form as liberator— celebrated with unique iconic art, aesthetics, liturgy, food, theatre, and sacred dance and song.
Module 4: Echoes Of Ecofeminism In Shakta Tantra: The Yoga Of The Divine Feminine
The vision of the earth as a sacred hierophany and material form of the divine is perhaps most dramatically displayed in Goddess theology, first crystallized in early and late medieval narrative philosophical theology. This vision finds further expression and culminates in the sophisticated systematization of the nature and functions of Shakti (the highest Feminine Principle) in the tantric tradition. Hindu Tantra, especially in its Shakta (Supreme Goddess-centered) strains offers a rich and nuanced resource for the construction of an ecologically-conscious spirituality. In this module, we will explore the ontology of Hindu Tantra as a viable source of inspiration for the development of a Hindu ecofeminist theological vision.
In this course students will:
- Demonstrate a sound understanding of the identifiable characteristics of the “Shakta Philosophical Theology of the Mahadevi (Great Goddess)” in Hinduism.
- Recognize the foundational doctrines that flow through all of Shakta theology.
- Analyze the ways in which a psychology of emotions is used to evoke devotional love in the mysticism of Shakta Bhakti (devotional theology).
- Describe how the autumn festival of the Great Goddess (Mahadevi/Shakti), known as Durga Puja—the first Asian festival to be granted the status, by UNESCO, of Intangible World Heritage—presents the Divine Feminine through beauty, arts, and sacred sound.
- Discuss the unusual genre of “Narrative Theology” of her most famous canonical text, and how it uses both exciting mythology & sophisticated philosophy to both experience and understand the Divine Feminine.
- Apply acquired knowledge, ideas, insights, and principles to contemporary concerns— ecological, ethical, and relational.
Dr. Rita D. Sherma is founding Director and Associate Professor at the Graduate Theological Union’s Center for Dharma Studies in Berkeley, California. She is Core Doctoral Faculty; and Co-Chair of Sustainability 360 at GTU. She holds an MA in Religion, and a PhD in Theology & Ethics from Claremont Graduate University, CA. She is the founding Vice President of DANAM (Dharma Academy of North America)—an eminent scholarly society for research on Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist religion, philosophy, and culture. Dr. Sherma has published eight books including Contemplative Studies and Hinduism: Meditation, Devotion, Prayer & Worship (2020), Swami Vivekananda: His Life, Legacy, & Liberative Ethics; Woman & Goddess in Hinduism; and numerous academic articles. She is the founding Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Dharma Studies, and an Associate Editor of the Encyclopedia of Indian Religions. She serves on the Editorial Board of Reading Religion Journal (an AAR publication), serves as Advisor to the Parliament of the World’s Religions Climate Action-sponsored Faith for the Earth online & print project. Dr. Sherma has produced two documentaries on Ecospirituality, and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Yale University Forum for Religion and Ecology. In June 2022, her 35-chapter edited volume titled Religion & Sustainability in the Springer-Nature (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Series, Springer-Nature) was released. Her forthcoming book (2023) is Radical Divine Immanence: A Hindu Ecological, Liberation Theology of the Goddess, Mahadevi.