April 26: Jamal Jones and “Beauty, goodness, and the making of the ‘first poem’ in classical India”

Please join the Religious Studies Program for our 2024 April Research Brown Bag on Friday, April 26th at 12:15pm! We’ll hear from Professor Jamal Jones with his talk “Beauty, goodness, and  the making of the ‘first poem’ in classical India.” We will meet in the Bradley Memorial Conference Room (Room 204, Street Address: 1225 Linden Drive, Madison, Wisconsin). Open to all!

Abstract: In this talk, I’ll look at the idea that the Ramayana, an epic legendarily composed by a seer named Valmiki, was the “first poem” in classical Sanskrit. How does this make sense? The claim comes from Valmiki’s text itself, and it has been affirmed by subsequent readers (premodern and contemporary) who, setting historical claims aside, agree that the work possesses some emotional depth and aesthetic beauty characteristic of real poetry. Still, other readers have noted that the Ramayana does not exemplify the stylistic standards characteristic of classical Sanskrit poetry (if it fully exemplifies them at all). Following this, I’ll suggest that the Ramayana’s position is powered not its some stylistic singularity. Instead, I’ll argue that it witnesses to the tradition of classical Indian poetry because it thematizes and offers to solve a pressing metaphysical question for religious, political, and literary thinkers in classical India: How should we understand the ambiguous relationship between the beautiful (the good-looking) and the truly good?

Jamal Jones is Assistant Professor of South Asian Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and Religious Studies Affiliate Faculty. He received his BA (Religious Studies, 2008) and PhD (South Asian Languages and Civilizations, 2018) from the University of Chicago. His research focuses on classical Sanskrit and Telugu literature to illuminate the broader history of religion and culture in premodern south India. He’s currently at work on two main projects. The first is a book tentatively titled Powers Beyond Words: Ritual, Astrology, and the Politics of Poetry in South India. The second project is The Nine Masters, an English translation of the Navanāthacaritramu, a fifteenth-century Telugu long poem that offers an account of the origins of the Naths, a tradition of yogi ascetics and wonder-workers.