Nicholas Witkowski: "The Corpse as Nodal Object for Thinking Ascetic Practice in Relation to Labor in the (South Asian) Death Economy"
Department of Religious Studies
Serious consideration of the historical reality of premodern ascetic life begins in earnest with the work of Peter Brown. Brown demonstrated how classic conceptions of the ascetic as a gleaming religious virtuoso might be integrated with accounts of the socio-economic life of late antique Rome. Many have followed in his wake in the study of the ancient Mediterrenean, but scholars have struggled to piece together a history of South Asian Buddhist ascetic life that marries the hermeneutical frame of homo religiosus to that of homo economicus. My current project is a history of Indian Buddhist cremation ground asceticism that draws upon a number of theoretical approaches in order to bring the ascetic into conversation with accounts of the socio-economic realities of everyday life. This talk will focus on several theoretical approaches which center on the corpse as a nodal object for negotiating ascetic practice in relation to the (South Asian) death economy.
Nicholas Witkowski is Assistant Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of San Diego. His current project, Lifestyles of Impurity, is a study of low-/outcaste monastic communities in first millennium South Asia that employs the theoretical armature of historians of the everyday. This book project integrates feminist, Marxist, post-colonialist, and Foucauldian literary-critical approaches to the study of textual sources documenting the socio-religious practices of low-/outcaste communities. What Dr. Witkowski hopes to convey is a nuanced articulation of the social locations of marginality as wellsprings of cultural innovation that continued to resist, challenge, and, in certain key respects, transform Brahmanical imperial discourse and practice across the Sanskrit cosmopolis throughout the first millennium CE.