Associate Professor and Chair, Religion and Culture
Wilfrid Laurier University
In this presentation, I intend to highlight distinctive features of the Magadhan context that align with or challenge hypotheses proposed by Johannes Bronkhorst in Greater Magadha. His provocative argument that a “fundamental spiritual ideology” was characteristic of exclusively Magadhan ideas of rebirth eschatology, karmic retribution, ascetic renunciation, and knowledge of the self has impacted the study of Indian intellectual history by shifting the terms of debate about relative chronologies for the early Upaniṣads and the emergence of śramaṇa movements of the Janins, Buddhists and Ājīvikas. In this reconsctruction of the intellectual culture, the argument for Magadhan origins of these ideological developments relies primarily upon philological analysis of selected textual passages. The restrictive methodological approach utilized in Greater Magadha does not fully take other relevant sources for the study of Magadhan historical contexts into account that might support the assertion of a distinctive regional identity. I would like to inquire if looking at archaeological, visual and material cultures complements or contradicts arguments posited for Magadhan intellectual culture, with the aim of filling in religious, social and political contexts that may have also made ancient Magadha “great.” I will also aim to address the perception of Magadha as a cultural region outside the Brahmanical mainstream by offering comparative observations about “Greater Gandhāra” as a distinctive frontier borderland in the Northwest.