The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Ramanuja and Nahmanides: Articulating a Medieval Theology of Devotion

Ramanuja ( c. 1017-1137) who served as the main priest of the famous Shrirangam temple was clearly a theist and personalist; his great project was to articulate a philosophy which will foster devotionalism and a more emotional type of religion. He himself was the great philosopher of the Vishishtdvaita school of Vedantamimamsa, and moreover, he was the first Indian thinker who succeeded in creating a philosophical system out of the data of popular emotional religion. Ramanuja’s project was even more ambitious than creating a philosophical system to support emotional religion, as he wished to establish the personhood of Brahman and gain the support of shruti by basing his doctrine on the Upanishads. As such, Ramanuja deserves the credit for successfully attempting to coordinate personal theism with absolutistic philosophy, and indeed, Ramanuja may be said to have secured for Vaishnavism the sanction of the Upanishads. Nahmanides (c. 1194-1270) also known as the raMBaN developed a theology which in some ways resemble that of Ramanuja; from his point of view, the profoundest level of meaning in scripture is not typological but mystical. He asserts that the Torah consists entirely of esoteric names of God, and moreover, his conviction is that mystical doctrines could be known only through the tradition. The paper will highlight various similarities between the theologies of Ramanuja and Nahmanides.