2002 Indic Colloquium
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Laurie Patton

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S215 Callaway Memorial Center
Dept of Religion
Emory University
Atlanta, GA 30322



404-727-5177 (Office)



404-727-7597 (Fax)


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Background Information

Laurie L. Patton is Associate Professor of Early Indian Religions and Chair of the Department of Religion at Emory University. She is the author of Myth and Agument: The Brhaddevata as Canonical Commentary (1996) and Authority, Anxiety, and Canon: Essays in Vedic Interpretation (1994), and co-editor (with Wendy Doniger) of Myth and Method (1996). Her edited volume Jewels of Authority: Women and Textual Tradition in Hindu India was published by Oxford University Press in 2002, and a book of poetry, Fire's Goal (White Clouds Press), also appeared in 2002. Her book Bringing the Gods to Mind: Poetry and Performance in Early Indian Sacrifice is now forthcoming from the University of California Press, and she is at work on a translation of the Bhagavad Gita for Penguin (forthcoming in 2003).


Samvada as a Literary and Philosophical Genre: An Overlooked Model for Public Debate and Conflict Resolution

This paper will explore the possibilities of the traditional Hindu category of "samvada" as a mode of thinking about human conflict and conflict resolution. Samvada can mean "dispute," "discussion," "conversation," and "agreement/accord"--frequently within the same Hindu work. Following Elizarenkova's (1995) excellent model, I take this polysemy to be non-accidental.

I go on to discuss particular samvadas, restricting myself for the present to an examination of traditional Hindu sources (Rg Veda; Kaushitaki Upanisad; Shatapatha Brahmana; Mahabharata; and Vayu Purana). The multiplicity of meanings of samvada are borne out in particular examples of actual dialogues between characters, in which many connotations are simultaneously implied as the conversation unfolds. I then argue that the complexity of the genre bears a very significant resemblance to contemporary models for conflict management, in which "dispute," "conversation" and "accord" are all implied in the actual procedures of mediating a conflict. In each samvada, there is an issue at stake, and that issue is resolved after careful and guided imaginative procedures. (What conflict mediators call "exploring options.")

I close by suggesting that samvada might be explored and developed as an indigenous model for conflict resolution within India, related to but slightly different than the purvapaksha/siddhanta model of argumentation. Moreoever, in its particular use of narrative as a way of exploring options, samvada can contribute to and even expand upon other models of dispute resolution currently in use in many contemporary democratic cultures.

NB: I am only at the very beginning stages of a much larger project in which I hope to examine usages of the term in Indian philosophical, Tantric and dramatic genres as well. All suggestions more than welcome.

Read the entire paper in PDF format (84K, 19 pp.)