The Oxford History of Hinduism: Hindu Practice


On the 20th August, 2020, The Oxford History of Hinduism: Hindu Practice edited by Prof. Gavin Flood, Senior Research Fellow, Campion Hall, was published by Oxford University Press. It contains a collection of essays by leading scholars on topics of asceticism, yoga, and devotion, including dance and music.

The book description states:

Traditions of asceticism, yoga, and devotion (bhakti), including dance and music, developed in Hinduism over long periods of time. Some of these practices, notably those denoted by the term yoga, are orientated towards salvation from the cycle of reincarnation and go back several thousand years. These practices, borne witness to in ancient texts called Upaniṣads, as well as in other traditions, notably early Buddhism and Jainism, are the subject of this volume in the Oxford History of Hinduism. Practices of meditation are also linked to asceticism (tapas) and its institutional articulation in renunciation (saṃnyāsa). There is a range of practices or disciplines from ascetic fasting to taking a vow (vrata) for a deity in return for a favour. There are also devotional practices that might involve ritual, making an offering to a deity and receiving a blessing, dancing, or visualization of the master (guru). 

The overall theme—the history of religious practices—might even be seen as being within a broader intellectual trajectory of cultural history. In the substantial introduction by the editor this broad history is sketched, paying particular attention to what we might call the medieval period (post-Gupta) through to modernity when traditions had significantly developed in relation to each other. The chapters in the book chart the history of Hindu practice, paying particular attention to indigenous terms and recognizing indigenous distinctions such as between the ritual life of the householder and the renouncer seeking liberation, between 'inner' practices of and 'external' practices of ritual, and between those desirous of liberation (mumukṣu) and those desirous of pleasure and worldly success (bubhukṣu). This whole range of meditative and devotional practices that have developed in the history of Hinduism are represented in this book.

Table of contents includes:

Introduction: A History of Hindu Practice Gavin Flood


1. Ritual, Ascetic, and Meditative Practice in the Veda and Upaniṣads Cezary Galewicz 

2. Historical Context of Early Asceticism Johannes Bronkhorst

3. Religious Practices in the Sanskrit Epics John Brockington


4. The Early History of Renunciation Patrick Olivelle

5. The Later Institution of Renunciation Sondra L. Hausner

6. Measuring Innovation: Genesis and Typology of Early Pūjā Natalia Lidova

7. Haṭhayoga's Early History: From Vajrayāna Sexual Restraint to Universal Somatic Soteriology James Mallinson 

8. The Quest for Liberation-in-Life: A Survey of Early Works on Hatḥa- and Rājayoga Jason Birch 

9. Practice in the Tantric Religion of Śiva Gavin Flood 

10. Vaiṣṇava Practice Rembert Lutjeharms 

11. Theatre as Religious Practice Lyne Bansat-Boudon 

12. Sounding Out the Divine: Musical Practice as Theology in Samāj Gāyan Richard David Williams 

13. Women's Observances: Vratas Tracy Pintchman


14. Gandhi, Hinduism, and Humanity Faisal Devji

15. Legal Yoga Sunila S. Kale and Christian Lee Novetzke

16. The Modern Spirit of Yoga: Idioms and Practices Elizabeth De Michelis

17. Gurus in Contemporary Hindu Practice Daniel Gold

The two essays on yoga written by team members of the Hatha Yoga Project will be made open-access in the near future.