Christian Lee Novetzke

Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities

20042005 Forum on Sleep and Dreams

Christian Lee Novetzke

Assistant Professor, South Asian and Religious Studies

Use of Dreams in the Varkari and other Religious Traditions in India

The use of dreams in the Varkan religious tradition and in other religious traditions in India constitute a kind of historiography, a way of recalling the past that is authoritative, grounded in evidence, and linked to a reputable “author,” or the receiver of the dream. India in the Orientalist imagination has long been a place of dreams and a place situated in the dreams of the West. In The Philosophy of History, Hegel famously referred to India as a woman peacefully dreaming after giving birth. Contemporary travel guides to India still refer to the country as a land of dreamy mystery. 

Dr. Novetzke shows that, at least in one case, an Indian understanding of dreams is something more akin to a paranormal archive than to an occidental fantasy. Here the past has a medium of that sidesteps the usual course: the technologies of writing, the economics of textual preservation, and the professional intervention of the historian. It is a transmission even beyond language to a realm of bodily and mental experience. This study of dreams is part of an exploration of historiography in religious traditions in India.