A complex body of religious practices that spread throughout the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions; a form of spirituality that seemingly combines sexuality, sensual pleasure, and the full range of physical experience with the religious life—Tantra has held a central yet conflicted role within the Western imagination ever since the first "discovery" of Indian religions by European scholars. Always radical, always extremely Other, Tantra has proven a key factor in the imagining of India. This book offers a critical account of how the phenomenon has come to be.
Tracing the complex genealogy of Tantra as a category within the history of religions, Hugh B. Urban reveals how it has been formed through the interplay of popular and scholarly imaginations. Tantra emerges as a product of mirroring and misrepresentation at work between East and West--a dialectical category born out of the ongoing play between Western and Indian minds. Combining historical detail, textual analysis, popular cultural phenomena, and critical theory, this book shows Tantra as a shifting amalgam of fantasies, fears, and wish-fulfillment, at once native and Other, that strikes at the very heart of our constructions of the exotic Orient and the contemporary West.
List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: Diagnosing the "Disease" of Tantra
1. The Golden Age of the Vedas and the Dark Age of Kali: Tantrism, Orientalism, and the Bengal Renaissance
2. Sacrificing White Goats to the Goddess: Tantra and Political Violence in Colonial India
3. India’s Darkest Heart: Tantra in the Literary Imagination
4. Deodorized Tantra: Sex, Scandal, Secrecy, and Censorship in the Works of John Woodroffe and Swami Vivekananda
5. Religion for the Age of Darkness: Tantra and the History of Religions in the Twentieth Century
6. The Cult of Ecstasy: Meldings of East and West in a New Age of Tantra
Conclusion: Reimagining Tantra in Contemporary Discourse
Hugh B. Urban is Assistant Professor of Religion and Comparative Studies at Ohio State University. He is the author of The Economics of Ecstasy: Tantra, Secrecy, and Power in Colonial Bengal (2001) and Songs of Ecstasy: Tantric and Devotional Songs from Colonial Bengal (2001).
"A powerful book demonstrating how the Western study of Hinduism, Indian religious texts, and American popular culture have become related to one another in exceptionally intimate and creative ways. Urban refuses to narrate yet another postcolonial narrative about the evil West, producing instead a subtle and much more accurate reading of the cultural encounter that produced, intentionally or not, a new form of erotic mysticism-Western Tantra."—Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna