It is now widely recognized that Śaivism was the dominant religion in most regions of the Indian cultural zone, including much of Southeast Asia, from the sixth century CE to the twelfth, and that Śaivism’s rise to dominance exerted a transforming influence on the religions around it, most notably on the rise and character of Tantric Buddhism. During this period and beyond Śaivas of various and often competing traditions, some worshipping Śiva, others Bhairava, and others such goddesses as Kālī, Kubjikā, and Tripurā, produced an astonishing number of texts in the Sanskrit language, the long-established medium of most religious prescription and theory in the Indic world. This literature comprises many works that were venerated as of divine rather than human authorship, learned commentaries on some of these composed by such luminaries of early medieval India as the Kashmirian Abhinavagupta (fl. c. 975–1025 CE), a vast body of ritual manuals, some aspiring to pan-Indian authority and others revealing regional and often syncretistic traditions, and an even vaster and equally diverse literature that reflects the beliefs and practices of lay devotees of Śiva in different regions and periods.
The greater part of this huge corpus of Śaiva texts, much of it discovered and identified only in recent years, remains unpublished, and works that have been published, such as the monumental treatises of Abhinavagupta, have been published uncritically, that is to say, without a thorough examination of the surviving manuscripts of these works and without a critical evaluation of their variant readings in the light of an insufficiently broad and deep understanding of the traditions in which these texts emerged. The ISTS has been founded to transform this situation.
The Institute is dedicated to the translation and interpretation of the key Sanskrit sources of the Tantric traditions, principally Śaiva and Śākta, but also Buddhist, Jaina, and Pāñcarātrika Vaiṣṇava. The task of grasping the full intention of these authors from within a very different culture in the distant past requires the highest level of mastery of the Sanskrit language in several registers, the ability to work directly from manuscripts in many scripts, the skills of textual criticism, and a precise understanding of various interlocking systems of ritual, meditation, aesthetic practice, and theology.
It is the goal of the Institute to bring this level of mastery to bear on these sources and to promote the training of the most talented younger scholars in the world to carry this task forward in the future. Translations will be based not on published editions, where these exist, but on texts established through the critical examination of the primary evidence, namely the surviving manuscripts of those prepared from about the 9th century AD onwards by Nepalese, East Indian, Kashmirian, and South Indian scribes.
In pursuit of its goals, the Institute has gathered a large number of scans of manuscripts and plans to expand this precious digital archive in the coming years. It also extends invitations to scholars to visit to pursue research through access to its unique resources.
Swami Chetanananda, founder and abbot of The Movement Center in Portland, Oregon, has had a long-standing interest in supporting independent scholarly endeavors in the field of tantric studies. The Institute exists in large part due to his vision.
Prof. Alexis G.J.S. Sanderson
Spalding Professor Emeritus of Eastern Religions and Ethics, University of Oxford
Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford
The understanding of the significance of Śaivism is due in no small measure to the pioneering work of Professor Alexis Sanderson, who from 1992 to 2015 was the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics in the University of Oxford and is now the Academic Director of the Institute for Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions. After taking an undergraduate degree first in Classics (1969) and then in Sanskrit (1971) at Balliol College, Oxford, Alexis Sanderson spent six years in Kashmir, studying with a scholar and traditional guru of Śaivism. He was Lecturer in Sanskrit in the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Wolfson College from 1977 to 1992. From 1992 to 2015 he occupied the Chair of Eastern Religions and Ethics in the same university, and as the holder of that post became a Fellow of All Souls College. His field is early medieval religion in India and Southeast Asia, focusing on the history of Śaivism, its relations with the state, and its influence on Buddhism and Vaishnavism.
Professor Harunaga Isaacson, Professor of Sanskrit, Asien-Afrika-Institut, Abteilung für Kultur und Geschichte Indiens und Tibets, Universität Hamburg, Germany. 2007- present. Director of the Centre of Tantric Studies. 2006. General Director of the Nepalese-German Manuscript Cataloguing Project.
Professor Dominic Goodall, Directeur d’études, École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris and Pondicherry.
Professor Diwakar Acharya, Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics, University of Oxford, UK.
Professor Gudrun Bühnemann, Department of Asian Languages and Culture, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.
Professor Peter Bisschop, Professor of Sanskrit and Ancient Cultures of South Asia, University of Leiden, Netherlands.
Dr. Péter-Dániel Szántó, All Souls College, Oxford, UK.
Professor Francesco Sferra, Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale", Dipartimento di Studi Asiatici, Naples, Italy.
Somadev Vasudeva, Kyoto University.
Professor Alexander von Rospatt, University of California, Berkeley.