Vrindavan, 2019.03.30 (VT): Professor John Stratton Hawley—informally, Jack—is Professor of Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is one of the foremost authorities on Hinduism in USA, who specializes in North Indian Bhakti (devotional) Traditions. He is a passionate admirer of the poet saint, Surdas.
Having spent 45 years studying the works of Surdas, his fluency in Brajbhasha surpasses that of a native speaker. He has read more books on the Bhakti saint than many Hindi or Brajbhasha literature enthusiasts. These days he is exploring the manuscripts at VRI.
He says that he got enchanted by the magic of Surdas’ poetry while researching the culture, tradition and literature of Braj. This motivated him to learn the language under the guidance of Professor Krishnachaitanya Bhatt and Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami ji.
Professor Hawley has done extensive research in India, particularly on Bhakti saints including Surdas, Kabir and Meera. He has written and edited over twenty books and many scholarly articles on Hinduism.
For one of his early publications Sur Das: Poet, Singer, Saint (1984), he explored the National Library in Delhi, Bharat Kala Bhavan (Banaras), London British Library and the universities of Harvard, Columbia, Sandiego, Germany, Zurich-Switzerland, Washington and several other places in search of ‘Sur Sagar’ (Sur’s Ocean). The compilation, which is traditionally attributed to Surdas, contains descriptions of Krishna as a lovable child from the ‘gopis’ perspective.
In March 2017, Professor Hawley received the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy book prize of the Association for Asian Studies for his work ‘A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement’ (Harvard, 2015). In this volume, he clarifies the historical and political contingencies that gave birth to the concept of Bhakti Movement.
Professor Hawley is a regular visitor to Vrindavan Research Institute (VRI) and Jiva Institute. In 2015, he published Sur’s Ocean: Poems from the Early Tradition, which was the center of a lecture given at the Jiva Institute. Written in association with Kenneth Bryant, it contains the 433 Padas (poems or songs) that appear in the earliest Surdas manuscripts.