Nathan McGovern

Following the Snake and the Mongoose: Brahmanism and Its Avant-Garde in the Period Between the Empires

In my recently published book, I have argued that the opposition between the śramaṇa and the Brahman in ancient India was not intrinsic but rather arose out of contestation over the category “Brahman.” This lecture will explore broader trends in the development of religious identity in ancient India. I argue that śramaṇism represented the avant-garde within 5th-century-BCE Brahmanism that developed a distinct identity as reactionary householder Brahmans successfully arrogated to themselves the title “Brahman.” I then explore the ways in which śramaṇas articulated identity amongst themselves.


Nathan McGovern is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a faculty affiliate at the Center for South Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.