Rethinking Tantra: Oxford Weekend School, 14–15 March

Tantra Weekend School


The most misrepresented of all Hindu traditions, Tantra is a complex interweaving of teachings and practices that pervades Vaiṣnava, Śaiva, Śākta, and Smarta traditions. Its roots can be traced back to Vedic times and its influence has spread to Jainism, Buddhism, and beyond.

While sex and secret ritual are an element of some practices, Tantra is much more than that. Tantric ideas have shaped core Hindu practices such as temple building, worship, mantra, yoga, ayurveda, meditation, and guru-disciple relationships. It is a part of everyday life.

This weekend will demystify Tantra and show that it is more than just esoteric teachings for the few, but is in fact the very fabric of the Hindu world-view.


Saturday 14 – Sunday 15 March 2020
Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (Saturday)
Balliol College, Oxford (Sunday)


Timings (each day)
Morning: 10.00am–1.00pm (includes tea break)
Lunch Break: 1.00–3.00pm
Afternoon: 3.00–5.30pm (includes tea break)


Tantric Sex, the Kāma Sūtra, and Yoga

Western interest in Tantra is mostly focused on sex. However, sexual rituals in tantric texts are about physical empowerment and spiritual freedom – not sensual pleasure. How does this compare to the worldlier priorities of the Kāma Sūtra? And are there links between modern “neo-Tantra” and sexual restraint in yogic texts?

Kashmir Shaivism

Kashmir Śaivism: The Tantric Advaita

Kashmir Śaivism reveals the Tantric approach to religion as non-dualist. Śaṅkarācārya, generally viewed to be the principal exponent of non-dualism (advaita), teaches transcendence of the manifest world. But in Kashmir Śaivism we find a form of advaita that is more concerned with the notion of the world as a reality that is Śiva himself. By considering these two expressions of advaita we can identify the fundamental distinctions that exist between the Vedic and Tantric expressions of Hindu spirituality.

Tantra and Indian Religion

We explore the full dimensions of Tantra and consider its role in the beliefs and practices of Hinduism. Hinduism manifests in many ways, but it is possible to identify two major strands, which we can broadly define as the Vedic and the Tantric. We will establish the nature of these two expressions of Indian spirituality and consider how they relate to each other and are to be recognised in belief and practice such as Yoga and worship.

Tantra and Bhakti: Image Worship in Tantric Vaiṣṇavism

Tantra shapes one of the most common and visible forms of modern Hindu practice – temple worship. In this session, we will explore the tantric roots of image worship, through an exploration of the Pañcarātras, Vaiṣṇava tantric texts. We also examine the very close links between tantric ideas and devotional (bhakti) practice in the main traditions of Vaiṣṇavism.


Śakteya Mudrās: Hand Gestures in Goddess Tantric Traditions

In this session we attempt to understand and model hand gestures (mudrās) in tantric rituals. Rooted in older traditions, mudrās are an integral part of tantric ritual. Śākteya tantric practitioners construct a symbolic world through mudrās and in this talk we will explore how these are taught. We will also look at the use of mudrās in Indian classical dance and Hindu Temple traditions.

Mystical body of tantric meditation, flow of the life force. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

The Tantric Body

The body is important in Tantra, but in more mysterious ways than many people imagine. This session leads us to a more complete understanding of the role of the body in Tantric traditions as a vehicle for spirituality.


Medieval Tantra and Yoga

Recent scholarship shines new light on the historical development of haṭha yoga in relation to Tantra. In this session we look at what shaped the relationship between Tantra and yoga in the medieval period. We will further examine conceptions of the yogic body, goddess worship, and the centrality of mantras and yantras to meditation, as well as the identities and practices surrounding yoginīs.


Aghora Tantra in Kāmākhyā

A visual guide to the history and rituals of the Kāmākhyā temple in Assam, India. The temple of the Goddess Kāmākhyā is considered one of the śakti piṭhas (seating place of the śakti) of the Goddess. Rare still and moving images show the complexities of tantric rituals to the Goddess.


Dr Janaki Nair

Janaki is researching Semiotics in Tantra and Indian dance. She is a member of the OCHS Śakta Traditions research project.

Prof. Gavin Flood

Author of The Tantric Body, the definitive text on Tantra. Prof. Flood is Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion at Oxford University, Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Senior Research Fellow at Campion Hall, and Yap Kim Hao Visiting Professor of Comparative Religious Studies at Yale-NUS Singapore. 

Prema Goet

Prema is a multi-disciplinary researcher in the culture and languages of South Asia. He holds a degree in South Asian Studies and Sanskrit from SOAS, where he also obtained his Master’s degree in Philosophy and Religion (Traditions of Yoga and Meditation). Prema works with practitioners from India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, documenting and producing works on tantric rituals, the worship of Goddess(es), and yogic practices. He is a documentary researcher for the OCHS Sākta Traditions project.

Karen O'Brien

Dr Karen O’Brien

Karen is Lecturer in Asian Religions and Ethics at the University of Roehampton and previously taught in the Department of Religions and Philosophies at SOAS, University of London. UK. She is a co-founder of the Sanskrit Reading Room and a committee member of the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies. A former OCHS Online student, Karen has authored our History of Yoga course. She has published in the journal Religions of South Asia and is co-editing The Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies.

Rembert Lutjeharms OCHS

Dr Rembert Lutjeharms

Dr Rembert Lutjeharms holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in Oriental Studies (Indology) from the University of Ghent, Belgium, 2003. He completed his D.Phil. in Theology at Oxford in 2010, focusing on the theology of the sixteenth-century Caitanya Vaishnava poet and literary critic Kavikarnapura. His research interests are Sanskrit poetry and poetics, early Caitanya Vaisnava history, and Sanskrit hermeneutics.

Dr Nick Sutton

Dr Nick Sutton

Nick is the Director – and the heart and soul – of the OCHS Continuing Education Department. He is a dedicated teacher with decades of experience in making sometimes-confusing traditions relevant. He has created ten online courses and is working on many more. He has written translations and commentary on Bhagavad Gītā and the Yoga Sūtra.

Daniel Simpson

Daniel Simpson

Daniel is one of our key tutors. He teaches the courses on Philosophy of Yoga, History of Yoga and the Vedas and Upanishads. A Visiting Scholar to the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies in 2019, Daniel has a Master’s degree in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation from SOAS, University of London. He is the author of The Truth of Yoga, an accessible overview of history and philosophy. Daniel is also a devoted practitioner and teacher of āsana, prāṇāyāma and meditation.


Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (Saturday)
Balliol College, Oxford (Sunday)
Click here for map


OCHS Summer School 2019

On Saturday, a simple and tasty vegetarian (with vegan options) meal will be served at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.


Enrolment fee £345
includes teas/coffees,
and lunch on Saturday

Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
13-15 Magdalen St, Oxford OX1 3AE
Regd Charity No. 1074458
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