This work aims to offer an interpretive history of bhakti, an influential religious perspective in Hinduism. Karen Prentiss argues that although bhakti is mentioned in every contemporary sourcebook on Indian religions, it still lacks an agreed-upon definition. "Devotion" is found to be the most commonly used synonym. The author seeks a new perspective on this elusive concept. Her analysis of Tamil (south Indian) materials leads her to suggest that bhakti be understood as a doctrine of embodiment. Bhakti, she says, urges people towards active engagement in the worship of God. She proposes that the term "devotion" be replaced by "participation," emphasizing bhakti's call for engagement in worship and the necessity of embodiment to fulfil that obligation. The work ends with two appendices presenting translations of hymns and an important philosophical text.
"Embodiment of Bhakti can...be enthusiastically recommended to specialists in south Indian religion, scholars of comparative religion and history, and both Hindu and Christian theologians...Skillfully weaving and intelligently understanding available sources, it enables us to see how participation in Siva was a human project which nevertheless preserved and powerfully expressed this community's encounter with God and adherence to transcendent truths.
If Saivism was (and is) an intellectually sophisticated faith, this fine volume enables us to understand more clearly the how and why of that achievement"--International Journal of Hindu Studies
"This new history of bhakti moves beyond older historical studies of the devotional tradition in India by exploring distinctive varieties of bhakti that appear within a single region....Clearly written, well grounded in texts, and useful in any study of medieval south Indian religion."--Choice
"[A]ll of what Prentiss says is interesting and sometimes persuasive. At points, especially where she engages broader comparative issues, her comments can be quite stimulating."--Journal of Asian Studies