Portrait of Professor Richard King

Professor Richard King

Head of Department of Religious Studies
Professor of Buddhist and Asian Studies

About

Professor Richard King studied philosophy and religious studies at the University of Hull before completing a PhD on Hindu and Buddhist philosophy at the University of Lancaster. He has worked in a number of different universities including Stirling, Derby, Vanderbilt (Nashville, USA), Glasgow and has been at the University of Kent since 2013. 

Richard describes himself as a philosopher and a historian of ideas by inclination with an interest in classical South Asian thought and postcolonial theory. His work explores the intersection between what we call philosophy and mysticism/spirituality and the ways in which European colonialism has influenced (and continues to influence) modern interpretations of classical Indian traditions.  

Selected publications

Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism, SUNY Press, 1995

Orientalism and Religion, Postcolonial theory, India and “the Mystic East”, Routledge, 1999 

Indian Philosophy. An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought, Edinburgh University Press, 2000

Selling Spirituality. The Silent Takeover of Religion, Jeremy Carrette and Richard King,  Routledge, 2005

RELIGION/THEORY/CRITIQUE: Classic and Contemporary Approaches and Methodologies, Columbia University Press,  2017 (ed.)

Research interests

Richard's research explores interdisciplinary issues in the intersection between Religious Studies, Philosophy, the comparative study of mysticism/spirituality and the study of Asia. He works on theory and method questions in the study of religion (see Religion/Theory/Critique, Columbia University Press, 2017) and, in particular, has written about the impact of coloniality/modernity on the representation of Hindu and Buddhist traditions in the West. 

He is one of a number of key writers who have called into question the usefulness of the category of religion as a cross-cultural variable, especially with regard to the history of South Asian traditions. He is also known for his writings on colonialism and the modern formation of the category of Hinduism. More specifically, Richard is a specialist of classical Indian (Hindu Brahmanical and Buddhist) thought, with specific interests in early Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. 

Richard has a particular interest in postcolonial theory and the challenges involved in seeking to globalise and expand philosophy beyond its western horizons. (see Orientalism and Religion, Routledge; and Indian Philosophy, 2000). He is also interested in the impact that neoliberal capitalism has played in the emergence of new forms of eastern-inspired spirituality in the contemporary period (see  Selling Spirituality, Carrette and King, Routledge, 2005). 

From 2007 to 2009 Richard served on the advisory committee to the Guggenheim Museum in New York for 'The Third Mind. a major exhibition exploring Asian philosophical influences on modern American art and also as co-chair of the Cultural History for the Study of Religion group for the American Academy of Religion. 

From 2017-2020 he is co-investigator for a Leverhulme Trust funded research project which seeks to map mindfulness training provision in the UK (Twitter: @MapMindful

Richard's current research work explores apophatic (that is, negative or ‘unsaying’) discourse in classical Buddhist, Vedantic and Christian literature and the ways in which these trends have been largely excluded from the history of philosophy and framed by the category of mysticism. He is also working on the rise of 'mindfulness” in the 21st-century, exploring how an ancient Buddhist meditative practice became a modern secular therapy now widely adopted in healthcare, business and military contexts. 

He welcomes enquiries from candidates interested in doctoral study in the following areas:

  • Yogic Philosophies of India (Brahmanical and Buddhist) 
  • Postcolonial/Critical Theory and the Study of Indian Traditions 
  • The Concept of Hinduism 
  • Theory and Method in the Comparative Study of Religion 
  • Comparative Study and the Category of Religion 
  • The Study of Global/World Philosophies 
  • Spirituality and Capitalism 
  • Critical Approaches to the Study of Mindfulness 
  • The Comparative Study of Mysticism/Spirituality 
  • The Varieties of Non-Dualism 
  • Spiritual//Ecological Responses to the Anthropocene/Capitalocene  

Teaching

Richard teaches a range of subjects including Hindu and Buddhist traditions; Indian philosophy; postcolonial theory; and theory and method in the study of religion/South Asia.

Publications

Article

  • King, R. (2013). The Copernican Turn in the Study of Religion. Method and Theory in the Study of Religion [Online] 25:137-159. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15700682-12341280.
    Contemporary theoretical debates within the study of religion reflect the impact of a range of critical theories inspired by feminist, poststructuralist, postcolonial and "queer" perspectives on the field. Much of this work reflects a radicalization of a post-Kantian notion of the social con-struction of reality. It is argued that such theories represent an unfolding of the social and cultural implications of the Kantian epistemological project and reflects a similar "Copernican Turn" involving the recognition that the object of study--"religion," is a construct reflecting the meth-odological and theoretical assumptions of the researcher. The article then offers a postcolonial critique of mainstream "secularist" historiographies of the field and argues for an alternative model for understanding the history and future of the field of the comparative study of religion, grounded in the practice of comparative cultural critique and commentary on dominant models of modernity.

Book

  • Carrette, J. and King, R. (2005). Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion. [Online]. Abingdon: Routledge. Available at: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415302098/.
    This jointly authored book critically examines the use of spirituality in a neo-liberal world. It argues that, after the privatization of religion during the Enlightenment, there has been a second privatization in the post-1980s global marketplace. This second privatization is related to commercial and corporate powers that have taken over the language of spirituality for the market. The book thus offers a new typology for the relationship between religion and capitalism and shows how ‘brand-culture’ has transformed the idea of the spiritual. It provides a new genealogy of spirituality, an exploration of western and eastern traditions and explores the use of spirituality in business. This book has received considerable international interest, went into digital printing within six months after the first print run, and has already been translated into Dutch and has other forthcoming translations. The originality of the book is in providing a critical interpretation of market and business based spirituality, not least in the ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’ publishing industry
  • King, R. (1999). Indian Philosophy. An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • King, R. (1999). Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and ’the Mystic East’. [Online]. Abingdon and New York: Routledge. Available at: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415202589/.
    Orientalism and Religion offers us a timely discussion of the implications of contemporary post-colonial theory for the study of religion. Richard King examines the way in which notions such as mysticism, religion, Hinduism and Buddhism are taken for granted. He shows us how religion needs to be reinterpreted along the lines of cultural studies. Drawing on a variety of post-structuralist and post-colonial thinkers, such as Foucault, Gadamer, Said, and Spivak, King provides us with a challenging series of reflections on the nature of Religious Studies and Indology.
  • King, R. (1995). Early Advaita Ved?nta and Buddhism: The Mah?y?na Context of the Gau?ap?diya-k?Rik?. [Online]. New York: State University of New York Press. Available at: http://www.sunypress.edu/p-2143-early-advaita-vedanta-and-buddh.aspx.
    This book provides an in-depth analysis of the doctrines of early Advaita Vedanta and Indian Mahayana Buddhism in order to examine the origins of Vedanta.

Book section

  • King, R. (2017). Edited and Critical Introduction. In: King, R. ed. Religion, Theory, Critique: Classic and Contemporary Approaches and Methodologies. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • King, R. (2016). ‘Paying Attention’ in a Digital Economy: Reflections on the Role of Analysis and Judgement Within Contemporary Discourses of Mindfulness and Comparisons with Classical Buddhist Accounts of Sati. In: Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context and Social Engagement. Springer International Publishing, pp. 27-45. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-44019-4_3.
    This chapter examines the question of the role of intellectual analysis and ethical judgement in ancient Indian Buddhist accounts of sati and contemporary discourses about ‘mindfulness’. Attention is paid to the role of paññ? (Sanskrit: prajñ?: ‘wisdom’ or ‘analytical insight’) and ethical reflection in the cultivation of sati in mainstream Abhidharma and early Mah?y?na philosophical discussions in India, noting the existence of a subordinate strand of Buddhist thought which focuses upon the non-conceptuality of final awakening (bodhi) and the quiescence of mind. Modern discourses of mindfulness are examined in relation to detraditionalization, the global spread of capitalism and widespread adoption of new information technologies. It is argued that analysis of the exponential growth in popularity of ‘mindfulness’ techniques must be linked to an exploration of the modern history of attention, more specifically, the possibility that the use of fast-paced, digital, multimedia technologies is facilitating a demand for fragmented or dispersed attention. It is argued that the fault line between divergent contemporary accounts of mindfulness can be seen most clearly over the issue of the role of ethical judgements and mental ratiocination within mindfulness practice. The two most extreme versions on this spectrum see mindfulness on the one hand as a secular mental technology for calming the mind and reducing stress and discomfort, and on the other as a deeply ethical and experiential realization of the geopolitics of human experience. These, it is suggested, constitute an emerging discursive split in accounts of mindfulness reflective of divergent responses to the social, economic, political and technological changes occurring in relation to the global spread of neoliberal forms of capitalism.
  • King, R. (2011). Imagining Religions in India: Colonialism and the Mapping of South Asian History and Culture. In: Mandair, A. and Dressler, M. eds. Secularism and Religion-Making. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp. 37-61.
  • King, R. (2010). Philosophy of Religion as Border Control: Globalization and the Decolonization of the “Love of Wisdom” (philosophia). In: Bilimoria, P. and Irvine, A. eds. Postcolonial Philosophy of Religion. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer, pp. 35-52. Available at: http://www.springer.com/social+sciences/religious+studies/book/978-90-481-2537-1.
    Mainstream philosophy of religion, particularly in its Anglo-American variant but also in the Continental tradition, is preoccupied by parochial questions that derive from its heritage in liberal Protestantism on the one hand, and the secular Enlightenment on the other. Yet the parochialism is masked by the material and intellectual history of colonial domination that permits “Western” philosophers to pose their questions as ostensibly universal questions asked ofreligion byphilosophy. The process of globalization, however, recalls philosophy from such preoccupation with “border control” to be the loving pursuit of wisdom. The author examines how modern philosophy of religion, including some of the contributions of postcolonial theory, has, by classifying them as religions, subalternized many of the world's wisdom traditions. He concludes by advocating a renewed and more expansive form of philosophy of religion as loving pursuit of wisdom, nourished by a clearer self-critical grasp of its historic situation and limitations.
  • King, R. (2004). Asian Religions and Mysticism: The Legacy of William James in the Study of Religions. In: Carrette, J. R. ed. William James and the Varieties of Religious Experience. A Centenary Celebration. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 106-123.
  • King, R. (2003). Colonialism and Buddhism. In: Buswell, R. E. ed. Encyclopaedia of Buddhism. New York: Macmillan.
  • King, R. (2001). Orientalism, Hinduism and Feminism. In: Macfie, A. ed. Orientalism. A Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 335-342.

Edited book

  • King, R. (2006). Religion and Violence in South Asia: Theory and Practice. [Online]. King, R. and Hinnells, J. eds. Abingdon: Routledge. Available at: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415372916/.
    Do religions justify and cause violence or are they more appropriately seen as forces for peace and tolerance?

    Featuring contributions from international experts in the field, this book explores the debate that has emerged in the context of secular modernity about whether religion is a primary cause of social division, conflict and war, or whether this is simply a distortion of the ‘true’ significance of religion and that if properly followed it promotes peace, harmony, goodwill and social cohesion.

    Focusing on how this debate is played out in the South Asian context, the book engages with issues relating to religion and violence in both its classical and contemporary formations. The collection is designed to look beyond the stereotypical images and idealized portrayals of the peaceful South Asian religious traditions (especially Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sufi), which can occlude their own violent histories and to analyze the diverse attitudes towards, and manifestations of violence within the major religious traditions of South Asia. Divided into three sections, the book also discusses globalization and the theoretical issues that inform contemporary discussions of the relationship between religion and violence.

Thesis

  • Mahtani, N. (2017). Swami Vivekananda Revisited. Continental Collision and the (Re)Packaging of Hindu Traditions.
    This study seeks to analyze the how Vivekananda's voice impacted the (re)packaging of Hindu traditions in the 19th century. By first problematizing the Western terms 'religion' and 'Hinduism' It will establish the framework within which Vivekananda's influence can be understood. It uses the term 'continental collision' to demonstrate how the East and West impacted each other thereby confirming that the exchange of ideas was multidirectional and not one sided. This study highlights Vivekananda's Indian roots and local influences thereby taking into account the fact that Vivekananda's voice was uniquely Indian and not simply a result of Western ideology. This volume relies extensively on Swami Vivekananda's English publications thereby allowing Vivekananda to speak for himself. It surveys Vivekananda's experiences at the Parliament of Religions in 1893 and his triumphant return in order to determine how he was able to cultivate a hierarchy which privileged Advaita Vedanta over all other native Indian traditions. By highlighting the way Vivekananda created the hierarchy amongst Indian traditions, a hierarchy that is still thriving in modern India, it draws attention to how this is detrimental to the integrity of the Indian landmass. Using modern scholarship, it shines a light on the way Vivekananda's ideas have been appropriated by the Hindutva movement who, in turn, have interpreted his hierarchy to be in support of creating a Hindu state in India. Thus, it reveals how this particularly Indian voice of Vivekananda's, due to the immense 'continental collision' that occurred during the British Raj, was able to (re)package Hindu traditions; a repackaging that resulted in a hierarchy that must be dismantled by Hindus today.
  • McGuire, R. (2015). The Madhyamaka Speaks to the West: A Philosophical Analysis of ??nyat? As a Universal Truth.
    Through a philosophical analysis of realist interpretations of Madhyamaka Buddhism, I will argue that the Madhyamaka is not well represented when it is represented as nihilism, absolutism or as some non-metaphysical alternative. Indeed, I will argue that the Madhyamaka is misrepresented when it is represented as anything; its radical context sensitivity entails that it cannot be autonomously volunteered. The Madhyamaka analysis disrupts the ontic and epistemic presuppositions that consider inherent existence and absolute truth to be possible and necessary, and so the ultimate truth, ??nyat?, is not an absolute truth or ultimate reality. However, I will argue that ??nyat? does qualify as a universal truth and should be understood as a context-insensitive, non-propositional truth in a non-dual dependent relationship with the multitudinous context-sensitive, propositional truths. This analysis will prove helpful in an investigation of those tensions, discernible within Buddhist modernism and the discourse of scientific Buddhism, that arise when Buddhist apologists claim a timeless modernity and a non-hostility with respect to contemporary worldviews. I will argue that apologists can resolve these tensions and satisfy their intuitions of timelessness, but only if they are willing to foreground the crucial distinction between their Buddhist worldview (their context-sensitive propositional truths) and their Madhyamaka attitude towards that worldview (the context-insensitive truth of ??nyat?). I will go on to generalise this result, showing that this Madhyamaka analysis opens up the possibility for frictionless co-operation between any and all worldviews, and that we therefore have a philosophical basis for a workable and sensitive theory of worldview pluralism. I will find it necessary to defend this position by demonstrating that, despite its context-insensitivity, the ultimate truth’s non-dual relationship with conventional truth mitigates against moral and epistemic relativism. I will further substantiate my claim as to the universal truth of ??nyat? by showing that, in Karan Barad’s ‘agential realism’, we find a revealing example of ??nyat? being articulated from within a non-Buddhist context. Thus, I hope to demonstrate some of the good effects of the Madhyamaka message, and show that this message can only be communicated clearly when it is distinguished from the discourses of Buddhism. In this manner, not by giving it a voice but through finding its voiceless authority, I hope to enable the Madhyamaka speak to the West.
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