Skip to main content

Unit information: Divine Love in Hinduism: From Devotion to Tantra in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Divine Love in Hinduism: From Devotion to Tantra
Unit code THRS10054
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Gethin
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The trope of romantic and sexual love as a way of expressing the relationship between humanity and the divine is common to different religious traditions. This unit explores the religious use of such imagery within the context of Hinduism, where it becomes associated with a refined aesthetic sensibility as well as ecstatic behaviour and acts of ritualised sex. The Hindu example also raises questions about the conception of the divine as male or female. The first half of the unit focuses on the imagery of sexual love in Hindu devotional religion (bhakti), exemplified in the love of the milkmaids for Krishna as expressed in poetry, song, dance and painting. The second half considers the development of the overtly sexualised rituals and other transgressive practices associated with Hindu Tantra. The unit concludes with some reflection on the western reception of Tantra as an example both of cultural synthesis and religious modernism.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have: (1) developed a broad understanding of the religious use of the trope of romantic and sexual love as exemplified in Hindu devotional religion and Tantra; (2) developed a general understanding of how the various dimensions of this trope intersect with questions about sexuality, gender, cultural exchange and religious modernism; (3) demonstrated an ability to analyse and explain the broad significance of the trope in Hinduism and religion more generally; (4) demonstrated the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument.

Teaching details

20 hours (lecture/seminar)

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 1500 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours (50%).

Reading and References

Biernacki, Loriliai, Renowned goddess of desire: women, sex, and speech in Tantra (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) Bryant, Edwin F., Krishna: the beautiful legend of God (London: Penguin, 2003) Dallapiccola, A. L., et al. (ed.), Krishna: The Divine Lover: Myth and Legend through Indian Art (London: Serindia, 1982) Siegel, L., Sacred and Profane Dimensions of Love in Indian Traditions as Exemplified in the GÄ«tagovinda of Jayadeva (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978) Urban, Hugh B., Tantra: sex, secrecy, politics, and power in the study of religions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) White, David Gordon, Kiss of the YoginÄ«: ‘Tantric Sex’ in its South Asian contexts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).