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Professor Gwilym Beckerlegge

Profile summary

Professional biography

I studied religion at the Universities of Oxford and Lancaster where I developed a particular interest in the religions of South Asia and Japan from the nineteenth century to the present. My doctoral thesis examined continuity within the Ramakrishna Math and Mission with reference to the practice of seva, service to humanity. Much of this subsequently appeared in The Ramakrishna Mission: The Making of a Modern Hindu Movement (2000) and Swami Vivekananda's Legacy of Service: A Study of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (2006). I was closely  involved during 2012-14 in scholarly events related to the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, with contributions in the Indian media (see ‘Legacy of service’ in Frontline (The Hindu Newspaper Group, Chennai) Vol.30, no.2, January 26, 2013; available under 'Legacy of Service'  http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl3002/fl300200.htm), and invitations to contribute to conferences during 2013/14 in Delhi (organised by Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and Indian Council of Historical Research), Kolkata (organised by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture), Los Angeles (organised by University of Southern California, Cork (organised by University College Cork), and Haora (West Bengal) (organised by the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira.

I have been a member of the Discipline of Religious Studies at The Open University since 1993 and was head of discipline from 2002 to 2004. In 2006/07 I held the post of Professor of the Study of Religions at University College Cork, and in 2010 was Visting Professor at the Centre d'études de l'Inde et de l'Asie du Sud, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociale, Paris.

 

Contact

Professor Emeritus Gwilym Beckerlegge

Department of Religious Studies
The Open University
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
UK

G.Beckerlegge@open.ac.uk

Research interests

i) The Hindu religious tradition from the nineteenth century to the present, with reference to the relationship between religion and social development and the practice of seva (service to humanity) as performed and understood by the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and Hindu nationalist organisations, in particular, the Vivekananda Kendra.

ii) Popular Hindu iconography

iii) Representations of Vivekananda in Hindutva (Hindu nationalist)-inspired organisations

iv) Methodology

 

Selected recent publications

Refereed journals

2015 Sevā: the focus of a fragmented but gradually coalescing field of study’ in Religions of South Asia Vol. 9, No.2, pp.208-239.  ISSN 1751-2689 (Print) ISSN 1751-2697 (Online) 2015

2013 'Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) 150 years on: critical studies of an influential Hindu guru' in Religion Compass, Vol. 7, No.10, pp.444-453

 

Contributions to edited volumes

2014 ‘Eknath Ranade, gurus and jīvanvratīs (life-workers): Vivekananda Kendra’s promotion of the ‘Yoga Way of Life’’ in M.Singleton and E.Goldberg (eds.) Gurus of Modern Yoga. New York: Oxford University Press, pp.327-350

 

See Open Research Online for further details of my research publications.

 

Work in Progress

While continuing my work on the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, which has been based largely in Kolkata, much of my recent research has centred on the Vivekananda Kendra, based at Kanniyakumari in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The outcome of my presence as a participant observer at its 2010 annual Yoga Shiksha Shibir (Yoga Training Camp) appeared in Singleton and Goldberg (2104)  (see above). I have contributed the entry on Vivekananda Kendra, as well as that on the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, to the Brill Encyclopaedia of Hinduism.

My forthcoming study of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanniyakumari, ‘Celebrating heritage, promoting tourism, and relocating Svāmī Vivekānanda: a study of the Svāmī Vivekānanda Rock Memorial’ in the International Journal of Hindu Studies, 24.2, August 2021, explores the interrelationship between the popularisation of this monument in the context of promotion of its location, Kanniyakumari, as a tourist resort, and representations of Vivekananda associated with the Rock Memorial.

I am currently editor of Volume 5 of the Bloomsbury Cultural History of Hinduism series. I have forthcoming book chapters (2020) on Margaret Noble/Sister Nivedita in P Bornet (ed.) Translocal Lives and Religion: Connections between Asia and Europe in the Late Modern World (The Study of Religion in a Global Context series). Sheffield: Equinox, ISBN 13: 9781781795828, and on the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in Europe in F.Sardella and K.Jacobsen (eds.) Hinduism in Europe Leiden: Brill. I am in the process of completing a study of the iconography of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

 

Recent seminar/conference presentations include

2018 ‘Arousing Krishna Consciousness: a study of ISKCON's “transcendent art” and the work of ISKCON's artists’ (‘Mediated religion and ritual’ panel) at the British Association for the Study of Religions annual conference, University of Leeds Trinity

2017 'Unravelling biographies of Margaret Noble/Sister Nivedita' at the British Association for the Study of Religions annual conference, University of Chester

2015 'Swami Vivekananda, the ‘nation-builder’: relocating Vivekananda to Kanniyakumari’, invited plenary lecture’ at conference on Impact and Internationalism: The Life and Thoughts of Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda, organised by the Scottish centre for Tagore Studies and the Edinburgh International Centre for Spirituality and Peace

2014 'Renunciation and service: the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, the Vivekananda Kendra, and Swami Vivekananda's Legacy' (The Majewski Lecture at the invitation of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies), The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford (recording available at http://www.ochs.org.uk/lectures/downloads )

2014 'Swami Vivekananda: A "prophet of globalization?' at Swami Vivekananda's Ideas and Our Times: A Retrospect on His 150th Birth Anniversary (an international seminar sponsoed by the UGC of India) at the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira (affiliated to the University of Kolkata)

 

 

Teaching interests

 

Recent examples of my teaching materials include

A227 Exploring Religion

2017 'Approaching Hindu Scripture, Temples, and Devotional Art as "Texts" ' (Block 3 Texts), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp.113-183 

2017 'The Temple as a Site of Hindu Practice' (Block 2 Practices), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp.149-201 

2017 ‘Mapping Hinduism: Creating the Punya Bhumi (the ‘blessed land’)’ (Block 1 Places), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp 113-160

2017 Academic consultant for creation of interactive map of India with embedded video clips, and film sequences of the Swaminarayan mandir, Preston, Lancashire, and Bhaktivedanta Manor, British HQ of ISKCON, near Watford

 

A332 Why is Religion Controversial?

2013 ‘Unifying Consciousness, Unifying the Nation: Competing Visions of the Future of India and the Yoga Tradition’ (Block 4 Controversial Futures), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 97-140

2013 ‘No Face More Familiar: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – Mahatma Gandhi’ (Block 1 Controversial Figures – Jesus, Jonas, Gandhi, Al-Bana), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 99-154

2013 Academic consultant (devised film and conducted major interviews) for ‘Vivekananda Kendra’s “Yoga Way of Life” ‘ (25 mins.)

2013 Academic consultant (selected material and one of two interviewees) for ‘Representations of Gandhi in Film’ (21 mins.)

External collaborations

Professional Bodies

British Association for the Study of Religion/ European Association for the Study of Religion

Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society

 

Other External Activities

I act as a reviewer for the AHRC, the Marsden Fund Council/Royal Society of New Zealand, and other funding bodies, in addition to various publishers and journals

I have been an external examiner for a number universities

Publications

Celebrating heritage, promoting tourism, and relocating Svāmī Vivekānanda: a study of the Svāmī Vivekānanda Rock Memorial (2021)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
International Journal of Hindu Studies ((In Press))


[Book Review] Unforgetting Chaitanya: Vaishnavism and Cultures of Devotion in Colonial Bengal by Varuni Bhatia, Oxford University Press, 2017 (2019-07-08)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
Journal of Contemporary Religion, 34(2) (pp. 406-408)


'Sevā: The Focus of a Fragmented but Gradually Coalescing Field of Study' (2015)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
Religions of South Asia, 9(2) (pp. 208-239)


Teaching about religions of South Asian origin at The Open University: a reflection on the scope and limitations of flexible learning (2011-04)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
Discourse: Learning and Teaching in Philosophical and Religious Studies, 10(2) (pp. 61-77)


Seva (service to humanity): a boundary issue in the study of recent and contemporary Hindu movements (2011)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
Man in India, 91(1) (pp. 39-56)


'An ordinary organisation run by ordinary people': a study of leadership in Vivekananda Kendra (2010)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
Contemporary South Asia, 18(1) (pp. 71-88)


Svāmī Vivekānanda’s iconic presence and conventions of nineteenth-century photographic portraiture (2008-04)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
International Journal of Hindu Studies, 12(1) (pp. 1-40)


Responding to Conflict: A Test of the Limits of Neo–Vedāntic Social Activism in the Ramakrishna Math and Mission? (2007-04)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
International Journal of Hindu Studies, 11(1) (pp. 1-25)


Swami Vivekananda and the sangh parivar: convergent or divergent views on population, religion and national identity? (2006-06)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
Postcolonial Studies: Culture, Politics, Economy, 9(2) (pp. 121-135)


The early spread of Vedanta societies: an example of 'imported localism' (2004-10)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
Numen: International Review for the History of Religions, 51(3) (pp. 296-320)


Iconographic representations of renunciation and activism in the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (2004-01)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
Journal of Contemporary Religion, 19(1) (pp. 47-66)


Swami Vivekananda and his legacy (2020)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
ISBN : 9781662230431 | Publisher : Wise Studies | Published : London


Swami Vivekananda's legacy of service: a study of the Ramakrishna math and mission (2006-02-23)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
ISBN : 9780195673883 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : India


The Ramakrishna Mission: the Making of a Modern Hindu Movement (2000)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
ISBN : 195651332 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : New Delhi


‘Vivekananda and his organizational legacy with particular reference to seva within the Ramakrishna Math and Mission’ (2020-06-01)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Sherma, Rita ed. The Life, Legacy, and Liberative Ethics of Swami Vivekananda. Explorations in Indic Traditions: Theological, Ethical and Philosophical
ISBN : 9781498586047 | Publisher : Lexington Press (In Press) | Published : Lanham


The Making of the Ideal Transnational Disciple: Unravelling Biographies of Margaret Noble/Sister Nivedit (2020)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Bornet, Philippe ed. Translocal Lives and Religion: Connections between Asia and Europe in the Late Modern World ((In Press))
ISBN : 9781781795842 | Publisher : Equinox Publishing


Introducing the study of religions at The Open University: the scope and limitations of a distance learning approach to the study of religions (2015)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Brun, Stanley D. ed. The Changing World Religion Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices and Politics (pp. 3765-3780)
ISBN : 978-94-017-9375-9 | Publisher : Springer | Published : Dordrecht


Eknath Ranade, gurus and jivanvratis: Vivekananda Kendra's promotion of the 'Yoga Way of Life' (2014-01)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Singleton, Mark and Goldberg, Ellen eds. Gurus of Modern Yoga (pp. 327-350)
ISBN : 978-0-19-993870-4 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : New York


Media savvy or media averse? The Ramakrishna Math and Mission’s use of the media in representing itself and a religion called “Hinduism” (2012-06)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Zavos, John; Kanungo, Pralay; Reddy, Deepa S.; Warrier, Maya and Williams, Raymond eds. Public Hinduisms (pp. 398-416)
ISBN : 9788132107408 | Publisher : SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd | Published : New Delhi


Introduction (2008-06-09)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Beckerlegge, Gwilym ed. Colonialism, Modernity, and Religious Identities: Religious Reform Movements in South Asia (pp. 1-20)
ISBN : 9780195692143 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : New Delhi, India


Religious Studies and theology in the context of secular higher education: the problem of the “methodological offer” (2008)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Warrier, Maya and Oliver, Simon eds. Theology and Religious Studies: An Exploration of Disciplinary Boundaries (pp. 167-179)
ISBN : 9780567032362 | Publisher : T. & T. Clark | Published : London


The Swami and the artist: the use of Indian art in Swami Vivekananda's Apologetics (2008)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Beckerlegge, Gwilym ed. Colonialism, Modernity, and Religious Identities: Religious Reform Movements in South Asia (pp. 213-238)
ISBN : 9780195692143 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : New Delhi


The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's 'Tradition of Selfless Service' (2004-07-15)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Zavos, John; Wyatt, Andrew and Hewitt, Vernon eds. The Politics of Cultural Mobilization in India (pp. 105-135)
ISBN : 0-19-566801-4 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : New Delhi, India


The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's "tradition of selfless service" (2004-03-01)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Zavos, John; Wyatt, Andrew and Hewitt, Vernon Marston eds. The Politics of Cultural Mobilization in India (pp. 105-135)
ISBN : 195668014 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


The Hindu Renaissance and notions of universal religion (2004)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Wolffe, John ed. Religion in History: Conflict, Conversion and Coexistence (pp. 129-160)
ISBN : 719071070 | Publisher : Manchester University Press in association with the Open University | Published : Manchester


Saffron and seva: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's appropriation of Swami Vivekananda (2003-08-14)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Copley, Antony ed. Hinduism in public and private: Reform, Hindutva, Gender and Sampraday (pp. 31-65)
ISBN : 0-19-566393-4 | Publisher : Oxford University Press


Computer-mediated religion: religion on the internet at the end of the twentieth century (2001-12)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Beckerlegge, Gwilym ed. From Sacred Text to Internet. Religion Today: Tradition, Modernity and Change (1) (pp. 219-264)
ISBN : 754607488 | Publisher : Ashgate in association with the Open University | Published : Aldershot, U.K.


Hindu Sacred Images for the Mass Market (2001-12)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Beckerlegge, Gwilym ed. From Sacred Text to Internet. Religion Today: Tradition, Modernity and Change (1) (pp. 57-116)
ISBN : 754607488 | Publisher : Ashgate in association with the Open University | Published : Aldershot, U.K.


Introduction (2001-12)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Beckerlegge, Gwilym ed. From Sacred Text to Internet. Religion Today: Tradition, Modernity and Change (1) (pp. 2-7)
ISBN : 754607488 | Publisher : Ashgate in association with the Open University | Published : Aldershot, U.K.


Swami Akhandananda's sevavratra (vow of service) and the earliest expressions of service to humanity in the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (2000)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Copley, A ed. Gurus and Their Followers : New Religious Reform Movements in Colonial India (pp. 59-82)
ISBN : 195649583 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


Swami Vivekananda and seva: taking "social service" seriously (1997)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Radice, W ed. Vivekananda and the Modernization of Hinduism. SOAS studies on South Asia (pp. 158-193)
ISBN : 195640128 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : New Delhi


Followers of 'Mohammed, Kalee and Dada Nanuk': the presence of Islam and South Asian religions in Victorian Britiain (1997)
Beckerlegge, G.
In: Wolffe, John ed. Religion in Victorian Britain (pp. 222-267)
ISBN : 719051843 | Publisher : Manchester University Press in association with the Open University | Published : Manchester, U.K.


'Swami Vivekananda's response to the immorality of "modern famine" (1994)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym
In: Das Gupta, R.K. ed. Swami Vivekananda: A Hundred Years Since Chicago - A Commemorative Volume (pp. 308-321)
Publisher : Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission | Published : Belur, West Bengal


Colonialism, Modernity, and Religious Identities: Religious Reform Movements in South Asia (2008)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym ed.
ISBN : 9780195692143 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : New Delhi


The World Religions Reader (2001)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym ed.
2nd Edition
ISBN : 415247497 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London


From Sacred Text to Internet (2001)
Beckerlegge, Gwilym ed.
ISBN : 754607488 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Aldershot