JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Liwen Liu

March 3, 2023 by Sonja Johnston

Liwen Liu received a Master’s degree in Indology from the Peking University, China, and is doing a doctoral project in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include Hindu rituals, Sanskrit intellectual history, and Tantric studies. Liwen joins the JHI in 2022-2023 as our Amilcare Iannucci Graduate Fellow.

JHI: What are your main research interests?

LL: My research interests include Sanskrit intellectual history, Tantric studies, and ritual studies. My dissertation examines the sacrificial violence in Hindu traditions by analyzing ritual theories and ritual texts composed in medieval India. Reflecting on the relationship between doctrine and practice, I investigate how the ritual of animal sacrifice is constructed on the one hand, and how sacrificial violence is doctrinalized and conceptualized, on the other.

JHI: What project(s) are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it (them)?

LL: I contrast the ritual texts on violence with the contemporary practices of animal sacrifice in Kolkata, India. By examining the gap between text and practice, I analyze how animal sacrifice as a contentious practice is allocated to low-rank priests and outcaste laborers, how ritual is transformed in this process, and how the transformation of ritual reveals the tension and interaction between high culture religion and popular religion.

I could not accommodate this project in my dissertation, because it does not fit into the timeline—my dissertation concentrates on medieval India. Therefore, I’m very happy that I had an opportunity to share this project in the JHI. And interestingly, my presentation dialogued with the project of Leena, the Artist in Residence, who showed a marvelous documentary film examining caste, gender, and labour in South India.

JHI: What are you hoping to experience as a JHI Fellow? What are you most looking forward to (or what have you enjoyed the most so far)?

LL: On the one hand, I appreciate the academic space provided by JHI in which we can have conversations with scholars across disciplines and research stages. On the other hand, I enjoy the physical space of the JHI. It is so enjoyable to write by the window while enjoying the amazing sunset!

JHI: Share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by

LL: I’m reading the Paramārthasāra (Essence of Ultimate Reality) composed by the Kashmirian philosopher Abhinavagupta (tenth-eleventh centuries). It is a Sanskrit treatise that outlines the non-dualistic doctrine, i.e. the recognition that the world full of diversity is nothing but the manifestation of the single pure consciousness.

I just finished reading the Misogyny (女ぎらい : ニッポンのミソジニー) by Chizuko Ueno, a Japanese sociologist and feminist. Many fellows in JHI address the gender issue in labour in their presentations, so I’m curious about how gender is discussed in the East Asian context.

JHI: What is a fun fact about you?

LL: I practice classical Chinese dance and shoot dance videos that aim at integrating my dance with the beautiful scenery of Toronto. Here is one of my works: A time travel in the Emmanuel College Library.