Mantras: Sound, Materiality, and the Body

12.05.2022 - 14.05.2022

For the last three thousand years, mantras in Sanskrit and other Indic languages have profoundly influenced religions in South Asia and around the world. Mantras take many forms, materializing in the sound of the human voice, the silence of thought, the script of writing and diagrams, the space of shrines and temples. In spite of the ubiquity and relevance of mantras, academic scholarship on mantras has proceeded in fits and starts, impelled by research on specific texts, traditions, and contexts—but only rarely through the systematic investigation of mantra as a category in its own right. While some studies of mantra in terms of language, sound, and ritual have gained wide attention, the intersections of mantra and other important scholarly categories—the body, performance, media, materiality, religious authority and identity—are relatively unexplored.

“Mantras: Sound, Materiality, and the Body” is an international workshop convened at the the Department South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Vienna and co-organized by the Center for Contemporary South Asia at Brown University and the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. This workshop aims to further the growth of mantra studies by bringing together scholars from various disciplines— religious studies, Asian studies, sound studies, anthropology, art history—around our shared interest in mantras. We will curate several days of conversation on mantras in all their multiformity, with a focus on sound, materiality, and the body.

What is a mantra, exactly? How does the philosophy of mantra relate to practice (and vice versa)? What role does embodiment play in mantra systems? How do mantras mediate between practitioners and their material or spiritual goals? How do mantras change when adapted to new technologies and media? How do mantras shape identities, communities, and traditions?


With the aim of grappling with these big questions (and more), we are calling for papers on mantras in premodern and contemporary contexts, in major Asian religions as well as global spiritualities, and addressing texts, practices, material culture, lived religion, and critical theory. Proposals may be works-in-progress, ideas for future research projects, summations of previous research, and theoretical or methodological interventions. We encourage contributions that span disciplines, consider mantras in vernacular languages and popular traditions, address neglected domains of inquiry, examine mantras using digital and audio-visual resources—and otherwise cultivate synergy between scholars working on mantra with different materials, approaches, and framings. This workshop will offer a forum for exploring future collaborations on mantras and the prospects for securing funding for a multi-year, international research project on mantras.

→ Visit our workshop website

Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, University of Vienna co-organized by the Center for Contemporary South Asia, Brown University and the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore