Refiguring the Body

Embodiment in South Asian Religions

Edited by Barbara A. Holdrege & Karen Pechilis

Subjects: Asian Religion And Philosophy, Religion, Asian Studies
Paperback : 9781438463148, 376 pages, July 2017
Hardcover : 9781438463155, 376 pages, December 2016

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Table of contents

Introduction: Body Matters in South Asia
Barbara A. Holdrege

Part I. Material Bodies, Embodied Selves, and Perfected Embodiments

1. Perfected Embodiment: A Buddhist-Inspired Challenge to Contemporary Theories of the Body
Michael Radich

2. Body, Self, and Embodiment in the Sanskrit Classics of Āyurveda
Anthony Cerulli

3. Bodily Gestures and Embodied Awareness: Mudrā as the Bodily Seal of Being in the Trika Śaivism of Kashmir
Kerry Martin Skora

4. Bodied, Embodied, and Reflective Selves: Theorizing Performative Selfhood in South Indian Performance
Harshita Mruthinti Kamath

Part II. Divine Bodies and Devotional Bodies

5. Observations on the Bodies of the Gods in the Mahābhārata
Kendall Busse

6. Bhakti and Embodiment: Bodies of Devotion and Bodies of Bliss in Kṛṣṇa Bhakti
Barbara A. Holdrege

7. To Body or Not to Body: Repulsion, Wonder, and the Tamil Saint Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār
Karen Pechilis

8. Bodies of Desire, Bodies of Lament: Marking Emotion in a South Indian Vaiṣṇava Messenger Poem
Steven P. Hopkins

Part III. Gendered and Engendering Bodies

9. Defining Women’s Bodies in Indian Buddhist Monastic Literature
Carol S. Anderson

10. Murderer, Saint, and Midwife: The Gendered Logic of Engendering in Buddhist Narratives of Aṅgulimāla’s Conversion
Liz Wilson

11. Fruitful Austerity: Paradigms of Embodiment in Hindu Women’s Vrat Performances
Tracy Pintchman

Afterword: Bodies of Knowledge
Karen Pechilis


Examines how embodiment is conceived and experienced in South Asian religions.


Refiguring the Body provides a sustained interrogation of categories and models of the body grounded in the distinctive idioms of South Asian religions, particularly Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The contributors engage prevailing theories of the body in the Western academy that derive from philosophy, social theory, and feminist and gender studies. At the same time, they recognize the limitations of applying Western theoretical models as the default epistemological framework for understanding notions of embodiment that derive from non-Western cultures. Divided into three sections, this collection of essays explores material bodies, embodied selves, and perfected forms of embodiment; divine bodies and devotional bodies; and gendered logics defining male and female bodies. The contributors seek to establish theory parity in scholarly investigations and to re-figure body theories by taking seriously the contributions of South Asian discourses to theorizing the body.

Barbara A. Holdrege is Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the South Asian Studies Committee at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her books include Bhakti and Embodiment: Fashioning Divine Bodies and Devotional Bodies in Kṛṣṇạ Bhakti and Veda and Torah: Transcending the Textuality of Scripture, also published by SUNY Press. Karen Pechilis is NEH Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the Comparative Religion Department at Drew University. Her books include Interpreting Devotion: The Poetry and Legacy of a Female Bhakti Saint of India and The Embodiment of Bhakti.


"…Refiguring the Body makes for a dense but fascinating read. Scholars of Asian traditions should definitely read it, and it will probably have special appeal to scholars of yoga, dance and performing arts, as well as women's and gender studies." — Nova Religio

"The sheer weight of textually and ethnographically well grounded evidence speaking to distinctive South Asian paradigms of embodiment is this volume's greatest contribution, and one that should inspire continued in-depth scholarship into both the traditions themselves and potential cross-cultural applications of their insights." — Body and Religion