Neil Dalal – Yoga and Cultural Appropriation: Parsing the Complexities

Key information

7:00 pm to 8:15 pm

About this event

Modern yoga finds itself divided on the contentious politics of cultural appropriation. Mainstream charges of cultural appropriation employ discourses of authenticity and inauthenticity, or purity and corruption in ways that presuppose not only South Asian roots and ownership, but also a pure ancient South Asian (or Indian or Hindu) yoga susceptible to corruption. Some Spiritual but not Religious yoga practitioners adopt a parallel logic of purity and corruption, but hold a metaphysical and epistemological ground of universalism. For them, yoga’s pure spirituality is universal, and therefore a priori not susceptible to appropriation. Both positions assume timeless ahistorical essences, but measure yoga’s purity in mutually conflicting ways. Recent scholarship is critical of both views on historical grounds, and implicitly endorses a non-essentialist view of yoga that disrupts discourses of purity or authenticity, and possibly cultural appropriation itself. In this talk I explain these different perspectives and problematize the public discourse around cultural appropriation; however, I also argue that we should seek a non-essentialist view that can account for possible cultural harms arising in modern yoga. 

Neil Dalal is Associate Professor of South Asian Philosophy and Religious Thought, and the Director of Religious Studies at the University of Alberta; where he teaches in both the Philosophy Department and Religious Studies Program.