Item Details

Modulating Desires Through Devotion: Hindu Devotionalism and the Science of Managing Desire

Issue: Vol 2 No. 2 (2015)

Journal: Journal of Cognitive Historiography

Subject Areas: Ancient History Cognitive Studies Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jch.30745


Among Indian religions, desires for the mundane are typically viewed as sources of suffering and impediments to liberation. To modulate these and other soteriological impediments, many traditions developed transformational paths of practice. One of the most prominent of these is the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava path of devotion, which celebrates Kṛṣṇa as the highest deity. The goal is not merely liberation, but to develop uninterrupted loving devotion for Kṛṣṇa. However, self-interested desires remain critical impediments. To overcome these desires and reach the goals of the path, early Gauḍīya theologians recommended various practices of devotion. Drawing on scientific research on desire-modulation, I argue that many of these practices would be effective for modulating desires because of the ways in which they manipulate situation and stimulus controls, attention allocation, and processes of valuation. This analysis has implications for our understanding of the development of the Gauḍīya path, the development and success of certain kinds of Hindu religious practices over time, and the power of religious practices more generally for modulating desires.

Author: Travis Chilcott

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