The third international lecture of the pre-con events of the international conference on Theology of Pilgrimage was held online on October 18, 2023. At this session, Dr. David Coolidge, Ph. D. Graduate from the Graduate Theological Union, delivered his speech under the title “The "Rawḍa" of Kṛṣṇa: Caitanya Vaiṣṇava pilgrimage from a Muslim Comparative Perspective”.
Here is the video of the session accompanied by the presentation file and written abstract:
Starting with al-Biruni, Muslims have been reflecting on the Hindu tradition for a millenium. However, when we look historically at Muslim writings about Hindus, there is heavy emphasis on the philosophy of Yoga and Advaita Vedanta from both al-Biruni and later thinkers such Dara Shukoh, Mir Fendereski and others. The Vaiṣṇava Hindu schools of thought have received very little attention from Muslim scholars of Hinduism. The Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas are a 500-year-old community that began under the Bengal Sultanate, and which has become increasingly popular around the world amongst both converts and those born into Hindu families. Their pilgrimage practices in the land of Vraja, located in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, highlight their distinctive cosmology and theology which Muslims are only beginning to understand. For Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas, this rural region was the most important site of Krishna's time on Earth approximately 5000 years ago. But more importantly, Vraja is ontologically connected to its eternal manifestation in Vaikuntha, the eternal heavenly realm. So just as, for example, there is an earthly Yamuna River that flows through Vraja in India, there is also a heavenly Yamuna River where Krishna eternally interacts with his devoted servants. Despite the fact that this eschatological vision differs in fundamental ways from Islamic theology, an attempt will be made to provide a conceptual bridge through the concept of the Rawda in Madinah, which is conceived by Muslims as being a piece of the eternal Garden (rawdatun min riyad al-Jannah).