In This Article ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Psychological Dimensions
  • Individual Members
  • Organization and Governance
  • Ritual, Art, and Music
  • Vegetarianism and Cow Protection
  • Women’s Issues
  • Relations with Prabhupāda’s Godbrothers and the Gauḍīya Maṭha

Hinduism ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness)
by
Kenneth Valpey
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0130

Introduction

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was founded in 1966 in New York, by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda (b. 1896–d. 1977). Rooted in the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava (or Caitanya Vaiṣṇava) tradition of Bengal (generally identified as a Hindu tradition that worships Vishnu or Krishna as supreme), ISKCON is identified by its followers as an authorized branch of the larger family tree of disciple-based succession descending from Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu (b. 1486–d. 1533), and its immediate affiliation to this tree is through Bhaktivedānta Swami’s guru, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura (b. 1874–d. 1937). Bhaktivedānta Swami rapidly gained a following in the early 1970s, initially in the United States and then in several other countries worldwide, in pursuit of the teachings in his several books—translations and commentaries of the Bhagavad Gita, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa), and Caitanya-caritāmṛta. Central to this teaching has been the practice of regular meditational recitation or singing—individually and in groups—of a mantra consisting of the names Krishna, Rāma, and Hari/Harā (hare krishna hare krishna, krishna krishna hare hare, hare rāma hare rāma, rāma rāma hare hare), as a form of addressing and worshiping the supreme lord, identified as Krishna. The recitation of this mantra is also a means of practicing bhakti-yoga, devotional engagement with the divine, as a process of self-realization and God-realization that emphasizes relationality with a supreme being as ultimate reality (in contrast with nondualist Vedantic traditions, especially that of Śaṇkara, the 8th-century philosopher of advaita-vedānta). In the few decades of ISKCON’s existence, a considerable presence (despite relatively small numbers of adherents) has been felt in many countries of the world, as second- and third-generation members steadily reconfigure ISKCON from a marginal “sect” to an established religious and cultural organization. Relatively few scholars have given attention to ISKCON up to the present day; yet there is considerable material to engage in studies of ISKCON if one includes articles and books written by current and former members of ISKCON. In this bibliography one will find several such references, facilitating the viewing of “insider” perspectives along with “outsider” perspectives. It may be noted, however, that some of the “insiders” here included are also academically trained and currently engaged in the academy.

General Overviews

ISKCON was by no means the only Hindu-oriented organization appearing in the West in the mid-1960s, yet it received attention from the public and from scholars as a strikingly visible mission that the media began to label as a “cult.” Bromley and Shinn 1989, aiming to offer a scholarly counterbalance to a negative “cult” designation, has several articles focusing on the Western context of ISKCON, in contrast to the very short dictionary overview provided in Gietz 2006, which touches on five of the society’s most essential features. Somewhat dated but still useful and very readable is Knott 1986 for a short book-length overview that gives attention to ISKCON’s Indian/Hindu roots, to be contrasted with the three-page representation offered in Lundskow 2008 in the context of globalized religion. Rochford 1985 represents a relatively early sociological study of ISKCON in America that gives attention to gender issues, whereas Squarcini and Fizzotti 2004 offers a broader and later survey that is quite insightful with respect to changing membership and organizational dynamics. One example of an evangelical Christian representation of “Hare Krishna” (ISKCON) is seen in Yamamoto 1998.

  • Bromley, D. G., and L. D. Shinn, eds. Krishna Consciousness in the West. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1989.

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    A collection of scholarly articles that emerged from a conference in 1985 at ISKCON’s New Vrindavan community, West Virginia, entitled “Krishna Consciousness in the West: A Multidisciplinary Critique,” organized to “offer a more comprehensive and balanced perspective on ISKCON . . .” (p. 14) than was available at the time.

  • Gietz, Karl-Peter. “Hare Krishna Movement (ISKCON).” In The Brill Dictionary of Religion. Vol. 2. Edited by Kocku von Stuckrad, 831–833. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006.

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    Though extremely short, this article offers a clear basic snapshot of ISKCON in five sections: History, Schisms, Organization, Teaching, and Ritual Practice and Manner of Life—a picture that is largely accurate, though some details are dated.

  • Knott, Kim. My Sweet Lord: The Hare Krishna Movement. Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian, 1986.

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    Aims to contrast the “Hare Krishna movement” with stereotyped “New Religious Movements” in Britain in the mid-1980s. Still useful as a general overview and contextualization of ISKCON’s key features and self-understanding. Includes an account of an effort to develop a non-monastic congregation, “Friends of Lord Krishna” (FOLK).

  • Lundskow, George N. The Sociology of Religion: A Substantive and Transdisciplinary Approach. Los Angeles: Pine Forge, 2008.

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    In the context of a chapter entitled “Religion and the Forces of Globalization,” a three-page representation of “Hare Krishna” as an “alternative religion” rather than a “cult,” being “a variation of mainstream Hinduism in India” (p. 347) that challenges American consumer mentality, yet is itself part of a complex process of multiculturalism amid globalization. See “Hare Krishna: Indian Religion Arrives in the United States” (pp. 346–349).

  • Rochford, E. Burke, Jr. Hare Krishna in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985.

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    A case study of early ISKCON in America, focusing on those who became committed members, ISKCON’s development and “career,” and the broader social landscape in which it expanded. Includes a case study of a particular woman recruit (chapter 4) followed by an analysis of gender differences with respect to recruitment.

  • Squarcini, Federico, and Eugenio Fizzotti. Hare Krishna. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2004.

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    Provides a brief overview of ISKCON’s early history, identifying three phases of development; also overviews practices and rituals, then doctrines and theology; concludes with a chapter on “directions, developments, and areas of controversy” (p. vi). Includes several black and white photos and excellent notes and references.

  • Yamamoto, J. Isamu. Hinduism, TM and Hare Krishna. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

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    A short evangelical Christian manual in outline form addressed to Christians apparently to prepare them for “witnessing” to Hindus, including Krishna devotees, members of ISKCON. Attempts to highlight points of similarity as well as differences between Hindu/Hare Krishna and Christian beliefs and values.

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