South Asia Colloquium Presents: Andrew Nicholson

Wednesday, February 24, 2016 - 4:30pm

Van Pelt Library, Class of '55 Room (2nd Floor)

University of Pennsylvania

Provincializing God: Hindu Arguments Against the Existence of Īśvara

Andrew Nicholson

Department of Asian and Asian American Studies

Stony Brook University



In this presentation I will examine some of the arguments for the non-existence of God (Īśvara) presented in the Sāṃkhya-Sūtra, a 15th century text written in India. The Sāṃkhya school, often retrospectively labeled as one of the six major “Hindu” philosophical traditions, argued forcefully against the existence of an omnipotent creator god. According to the Sāṃkhya-Sūtra, the desire to create could never arise in God, as he is eternally free and self-fulfilled. Though Sāṃkhya also addresses what has been known in the West as the problem of evil, that problem is presented as subordinate to the more fundamental impossibility of desireless action. By re-orienting questions of God’s existence around the problem of desire and by examining certain non-Judeo-Christian conceptions of God, I will offer an example of how philosophers of religion might begin to overcome their Eurocentric biases. 



Andrew J. Nicholson is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies and the Department of Philosophy at Stony Brook University. His first book, Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History (Columbia University Press, 2010) won the award for Best First Book in the History of Religions from the American Academy of Religion. His second book, Lord Śiva’s Song: The Īśvara Gītā (SUNY Press, 2014) is an annotated translation of a Pāśupata philosophical dialogue from 8th century India. Professor Nicholson’s areas of research include the philosophy of religion, Indian intellectual history, orientalism, and comparative hermeneutics.