SOAS CYS 2021 End of Year review
The Centre of Yoga Studies had our AGM recently, and with an audience feedback project earlier in the year, and a couple of big plans for 2022, we thought it would be nice to gather all this together and give our followers an end of year review.
Events in 2020-2021
In the 2020-2021 academic year, we ran 25 lectures, book launches and special events, from Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad speaking on Yoga, Philosophy and Gender, to Laura von Ostrowski speaking on Contemporary yoga as a practice of philosophy, as well as a successful online summer school, run by Lusy May Constantini, and our first post-graduate student conference, with 10 presenters, and the support of 4 scholars. This year we’ve had talks from Gudrun Buhnemann, Pradeep Gokhale, Loriliai Biernacki, Chris Chapple and Borayin Larios already, and we have many more to come. We’re so grateful to all our speakers for such a vibrant programme.
See our events programme for more and book on Eventbrite for all our events.
Most excitingly, we are on track to run the first global Yoga Studies conference in years, returning to Krakow to join our colleagues at the Jagellonian University. YDYS2022 already has over 80 papers and 4 keynotes confirmed for May 2022. While this will be a true academic conference, aimed at facilitating conversation, debate and the sharing of research in progress between colleagues, we hope to bring as much of the event as we can to our wider audience.
Our work is funded by a very generous external funder, and supported by a small steering group and a list of invited members. This year we added a few more illustrious Yoga Scholars to our membership, bringing the total to 16. We can also announce our two new MA reps – Erica Morton McGill and Krishna Khunti, as our existing MA rep, Vicky Addinall, starts a project on audience engagement.
More from our reps on this post, and more on the new project below.
In March we set up an online survey for you, our online audience. As of December 2021, we have a mailing list (491 subscribers), an Instagram account (2867 followers), a Facebook group (5065 members), and a new Twitter account (150 followers). Our in person events used to gather around 50-100 people, but online, we can reach double that live, and our YouTube films of the events get between 150-800 views on replay.
70% of you are highly likely to recommend CYS events. You are mature (majority 35-65), and your demographics are in line with UK population data on ethnicity, and yoga industry data on gender balance. Most of you are UK based (45%), with about one third of these based in London. Beyond that, you are an increasingly global audience joining us from US, Australia, India, Europe, South America, Taiwan, South Africa, Israel, Mauritius and beyond.
A significant majority (85%) of you consider yourselves to be a practitioner of yoga. A majority (67.5%) are not affiliated to an academic institution. Those that are, are mainly postgraduate students and past students, and mostly affiliated to SOAS. But you have a keen appetite for self-study. Beyond Yoga Studies itself, you show a broad range of interests spanning religious studies, art, sociology, psychology, and the sciences. Your most commonly stated profession was ‘yoga teacher’, but many of you are retirees.
You gave us little negative feedback, mostly concerning timing of events (for those in different time zones), and not all events or themes being to their specific liking. We’re working on that. Yet there is no part of our programming that doesn’t appeal to a significant proportion of you, and that makes us very happy.
Positive feedback included:
- ‘Insightful and evidenced based programs. Highly engaging’
- ‘I love having access to such stimulating discussions in what feels to be a growing community’
- ‘Thank you for offering the opportunity to study’
- ‘The research, propagation and education work that you are doing is fundamental for the construction of a new model of teachers that transmit beyond the myths of yoga’
Constructive feedback included a call for yet more diversity, more support for those in formal study, and added accessibility, such as:
- ‘Appreciate the yoga lectures if they are not too technical or overly academic. Sorry, but some of the vocabulary and references are over my head’
We’re working on that, too.
We also asked our scholarly members a few questions. Here’s some of what they told us.
What do you think are the greatest opportunities and challenges that the field of Yoga Studies faces in the next five years?
Answers included: political challenges regarding abuse, appropriation and forms of nationalism, bridging the gap between per-modern and modern areas of study, access and equitability to knowledge, how we position ourselves in dialogue with practitioner communities, and institutional uncertainty in a crowded marketplace. The precarious nature of not just jobs, but entire fields of study is of concern.
How can the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies realistically and sustainably support good research and good public engagement going forward?
Answers included: facilitating good engagement, helping to support vulnerable disciplines of study, creating diverse materials, and being a library for good content and a champion of good research. The good news is, that pretty much describes our remit. Those of our members that hope we can support grants and create jobs might not be aware of just how little money we have access to! We run all this on mostly volunteer labour and a part-time co-ordinator. Members also hope we can organise more in person events, and we know many of them aim to join us in Krakow next year.
Understanding Yoga Studies
And so to our most exciting news! In 2022 we are launching a new content series entitled ‘Understanding Yoga Studies’ – designed specifically to support you to gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the academic field of Yoga Studies.
As a recognised field of academic study Yoga Studies is relatively young. Historically the study of traditions of yoga lived within a number of other academic disciplines; such as philology, Indology, history, religion and anthropology. In a contemporary academic context, studies of yoga have branched into further disciplinary contexts like sociology, ethnography, economics, modern history. This makes the field highly varied, engaging and exciting (we might be biased!) but also potentially vast and overwhelming for scholars new to the landscape.
The multi-disciplinarity of the field often requires an awareness of numerous domains of knowledge, and the different (and often contradictory) conventions of different disciplines can be bewildering. Our new content series aims to equip early-stage and independent scholars with the tools to better navigate this varied research landscape, and equally to help practitioner communities in understanding the diversity of research being done into both pre-modern and modern incarnations of this vast field of cultural practice.
We hope this will be a helpful resource that will inspire and strengthen interdisciplinary awareness and approaches. As the editors of the recent Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies (2021:9) observe, this kind of knowledge exchange really is vital to make sense of the complexity and on-going global developments within yoga, and to genuinely further and deepen understanding. We are very grateful to SOAS IKE fund for supporting this project, which Vicky Addinall is working hard on, and Theo Wildcroft is supervising.
Each month we will share an introduction to a different discipline within the field of Yoga Studies including a short outline of the its placement in the field, a spotlight on three relevant academic voices, a short reading list and audio interview with a current academic working within that discipline. The content will be hosted online and circulated via our mailing list and social networks.
The first of these will be landing in your inbox and on our social channels in January next year. Join our mailing list here.