I studied religion at the Universities of Oxford and Lancaster where I developed a particular interest in the religions of South Asia and Japan from the nineteenth century to the present. My doctoral thesis examined continuity within the Ramakrishna Math and Mission with reference to the practice of seva, service to humanity. Much of this subsequently appeared in The Ramakrishna Mission: The Making of a Modern Hindu Movement (2000) and Swami Vivekananda's Legacy of Service: A Study of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (2006). I have been a member of the Department of Religious Studies at The Open University since 1993 and was head of department from 2002 to 2004. In 2006/07 I held the post of Professor of the Study of Religions at University College Cork, and in 2010 was Visting Professor at the Centre for Indian and South Asian Studies, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociale, Paris.
Professor Gwilym Beckerlegge
Department of Religious Studies
The Open University
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
i) The Hindu religious tradition from the nineteenth century to the present, with reference to the relationship between religion and social development and the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and Vivekananda Kendra in particular
ii) Popular Hindu iconography
iii) Hindutva-inspired organisations
2015 ‘Sevā: the focus of a fragmented but gradually coalescing field of study’ in Religions of South Asia Vol. 9, No.2, pp.208-239. ISSN 1751-2689 (Print) ISSN 1751-2697 (Online) 2015
2013 'Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) 150 years on: critical studies of an influential Hindu guru' in Religion Compass, Vol. 7, No.10, pp.444-453
2011 ‘Seva (service to humanity): a boundary issue in the study of recent and contemporary Hindu movements’ in Man in India: A Quarterly International Journal of Anthropology, Vol.91, No.1, pp.39-56
2011 ‘Teaching about religions of South Asian origin at the Open University’, Discourse: Learning and Teaching in Philosophical and Religious Studies, Vol.10, No. 2, Spring, pp.61-77
2014 ‘Eknath Ranade, gurus and jīvanvratīs (life-workers): Vivekananda Kendra’s promotion of the ‘Yoga Way of Life’’ in M.Singleton and E.Goldberg (eds.) Gurus of Modern Yoga. New York: Oxford University Press, pp.327-350
2012 ‘Media savvy or media averse? The Ramakrishna Math and Mission’s use of the media in representing itself and a religion called “Hinduism” ‘in J Zavos, P.Kanungo, D.Reddy, M.Warrier, R.Williams (eds.) Public Hinduisms New Delhi: Sage Publications, pp. pp.398-416
See Open Research Online for further details of my research publications.
My long-standing, main line of research into the institutional legacy of Swami Vivekananda, and seva (service to humanity) in the Ramakrishna Math and Mission has led me in turn to explore the role of seva in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its affiliates (the sangh parivar), and other sympathetic organisations, particularly the Vivekananda Kendra.
Much of my of my recent work has centred on the Vivekananda Kendra, based at Kanniyakumari. The outcome of my presence as a participant observer at its 2010 annual Yoga Shiksha Shibir (Yoga Training Camp), ‘Eknath Ranade, gurus and jīvanvratīs (life-workers): Vivekananda Kendra’s promotion of the "Yoga Way of Life" ’, has been published in Mark Singleton and Ellen Goldberg (eds.) Gurus of Modern Yoga (see above). I have contributed the entry on Vivekananda Kendra, as well as that on the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, to the Brill Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. I am currently editor of Volume 5 of the Bloomsbury Cultural History of Hinduism series, and have a book chapter in preparation on Margaret Noble/Sister Nivedita.
I was involved during 2012-14 in scholarly events related to the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, with contributions in the Indian media (see ‘Legacy of service’ in Frontline (The Hindu Newspaper Group, Chennai) Vol.30, no.2, January 26, 2013; available under 'Legacy of Service' http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl3002/fl300200.htm), and invitations to contribute to conferences during 2013 in Delhi (organised by Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and Indian Council of Historical Research), Kolkata (organised by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture), Los Angeles (organised by University of Southern California, and Cork (organised by University College Cork).Several of my contributions on Vivekananda’s legacy at these recent conferences will appear in forthcoming edited volumes. My paper given at the University of Southern California is currently accessible on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ne1q1QFIPY0 . An audio rcording of the paper I gave (see below) at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library is now available via that institution's website http://www.nehrumemorial.nic.in/en/55-lectures-audios/category/61-workshop.html, and the paper (see below) I gave as a termly Majewski Lecture will shortly be available via the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies' website.
2017 'Unravelling biographies of Margaret Noble/Sister Nivedita' at the British Association for the Study of Religions annual conference, University of Chester
2015 'Swami Vivekananda, the ‘nation-builder’: relocating Vivekananda to Kanniyakumari’, invited plenary lecture’ at conference on Impact and Internationalism: The Life and Thoughts of Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda, organised by the Scottish centre for Tagore Studies and the Edinburgh International Centre for Spirituality and Peace
2014 'Renunciation and service: the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, the Vivekananda Kendra, and Swami Vivekananda's Legacy' (The Majewski Lecture at the invitation of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies), The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford
2014 ‘Swami Vivekananda: A “prophet” of globalization?’ at Swami Vivekananda’s Ideas and Our Times: A Retrospect on His 150th Birth Anniversary (an international seminar sponsored by the UGC of India) at Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira (affiliated to the University of Calcutta)
2013 ‘Swami Vivekananda – 150 years on’ at Swami Vivekananda 150 Years On event, University College Cork, National University of Ireland
2013 ‘Vivekananda and his organisational legacy with particular reference to seva within the Ramakrishna movement’ at International Conference on Swami Vivekananda on the 150th Anniversary of his Birth, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
2013 ‘Swami Vivekananda’s Philosophy of Service: Assessing the Legacy of 150 Years’ at University of Roehampton (Royal Institute of Philosophy lecture series)
2013 ‘Swami Vivekananda Patriot-Prophet: Assessing a Legacy of 150 Years’ at King’s College, London (Department of Religious Studies postgraduate seminar series)
2013 ‘Expectations of Vedanta: Why has Swami Vivekananda’s message appealed to individuals in the West?’ at Conference on International Understanding on Human Unity: Past Lessons and Present Prospect, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata
2013 ‘Gathering up India’s ‘scattered spiritual forces’: Vivekananda Kendra and the legacy of Swami Vivekananda’ at Swami Vivekananda and the Making of Modern India International Conference, organised by Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, and Indian Council of Historical Research
I have been chair of the Open University module (A217) Introducing Religions, which has just completed its final presentation, and have contributed to the production of Why is Religion Controversial? (A332) and Exploring Religion (A227), which has been presented for the first time in October 2017.
Recent examples of my teaching materials include
A227 Exploring Religion
'Approaching Hindu Scripture, Temples, and Devotional Art as "Texts" ' (Block 3 Texts), Milton Keynes: The Open University
'The Temple as a Site of Hindu Practice' (Block 2 Practices), Milton Keynes: The Open University
‘Mapping Hinduism: Creating the Punya Bhumi (the ‘blessed land’)’ (Block 1 Places), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp 113-160
Academic consultant for creation of interactive map of India with embedded video clips, and film sequences of the Swaminarayan mandir, Preston, Lancashire, and Bhaktivedanta Manor, British HQ of ISKCON, near Watford
A332 Why is Religion Controversial?
2013 ‘Unifying Consciousness, Unifying the Nation: Competing Visions of the Future of India and the Yoga Tradition’ (Block 4 Controversial Futures), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 97-140
2013 ‘No Face More Familiar: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – Mahatma Gandhi’ (Block 1 Controversial Figures – Jesus, Jonas, Gandhi, Al-Bana), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 99-154
Academic consultant (devised film and conducted major interviews) for ‘Vivekananda Kendra’s “Yoga Way of Life” ‘ (25 mins.)
Academic consultant (selected material and one of two interviewees) for ‘Representations of Gandhi in Film’ (21 mins.)
British Association for South Asian Studies
British Association for the Study of Religion/ European Association for the Study of Religion
Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society
I am on the editorial broad of The Inclusive produced by the Kolkata Centre for Contemporary Studies
I act as a reviewer for the AHRC and the Marsden Fund Council/Royal Society of New Zealand
I have been an external examiner for a number universities