In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ramanuja

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Life and Social Context
  • Viśiṣṭādvaita
  • Other Theistic Traditions of Vedānta
  • Cross-Cultural Studies

Hinduism Ramanuja
Martin Ganeri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 June 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0128


The Tamil Brahmin, Rāmānuja (traditional dates b. 1011–d. 1137 CE), is a major figure both in the development of Hindu theism and of the Vedānta tradition of religious philosophy. Vedānta is concerned with ultimate reality known as Brahman and with the relationship between Brahman and the world, especially the nonmaterial conscious finite self (ātman) within each human being. Rāmānuja is revered as its principal teacher (ācārya) by the south Indian Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition, centered on the worship of the male deity Viṣṇu in the form of Nārāyaṇa together with his consort, Śrī. Śrī Vaiṣṇavism developed as a form of devotional theism (bhakti) based on the Tamil hymns of the poet saints, the Āḻvārs (6th–9th centuries CE), while also drawing on the Pāñcarātra tradition of theistic doctrine and ritual. Writing in Sanskrit, Rāmānuja’s greatest achievement was to develop a realist and theist interpretation of the Vedānta. Building on the work of earlier teachers within the tradition, especially Yāmuna (c. 966–1038 CE), Rāmānuja teaches that the world of finite nonmaterial selves and of material entities is the body (śarīra) of Brahman. Brahman is understood to be the personal God of theism, who is characterized by an infinite number of perfect qualities, while free from any of the imperfections that are features of the world. In his major Vedāntic works, Rāmānuja argues that the path to this is open to the higher (twice-born) castes through bhakti, characterized by devout meditation (upāsanā) on the Upaniṣadic texts (Upaniṣads), yogic discipline, and conformity to caste duties, aided by the grace of God. However, the Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition also maintains that in his more devotional works he teaches an alternative and easier path open to all people of self-surrender (prapatti) to God and reliance on the divine grace. Rāmānuja’s interpretation of the Vedānta represented the first systematic theist alternative to earlier forms of Vedānta, especially the dominant Advaita (“nondualist”) tradition, in which both the ultimate reality of the world and of the personal theistic nature of Brahman are denied. Rāmānuja’s system came to be known as Viśiṣṭādvaita (“nondualism of the differentiated” or less helpfully “qualified nondualism”). This system was then preserved and further developed as a systematic intellectual tradition within Śrī Vaiṣṇavism. Moreover, Rāmānuja’s account became the model for later Vaiṣṇava traditions to follow or modify. Rāmānuja’s work has also proved an important resource for Indian Christians and for a variety of cross-cultural studies.

General Overviews

There are a number of general introductions to Rāmānuja. Mention is made of three that are all readily available and provide clear and complementary insights into Rāmānuja’s thought and its context. Carman 1974 remains a standard introduction to the life, works, and theology of Rāmānuja, as well as to the relation between Rāmānuja’s thought and later Śrī Vaiṣṇava teaching. Lipner 1986 has a sustained discussion and analysis of Rāmānuja’s work, dealing with all the central themes of Rāmānuja’s theology and with his methodology. Bartley 2002 is a helpful addition in situating Rāmānuja’s thought more fully within the wider context of Indian intellectual and theistic traditions. In addition, Bharadwaj 1958 is a much-cited and extensive modern study by a scholar within the Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition, though sometimes blurring the thought of Rāmānuja and the later tradition.

  • Bartley, C. J. The Theology of Rāmānuja: Realism and Religion. London: Curzon, 2002.

    The most recent introduction to Rāmānuja by a Western scholar. There are useful chapters on the metaphysics and epistemology, as well as on the theology of Rāmānuja. There is also a helpful separate chapter on Advaita Vedānta.

  • Bharadwaj, K. D. The Philosophy of Rāmānuja. New Delhi: Sir Shankar Lal Charitable Trust Society, 1958.

    A comprehensive account of the different aspects of Rāmānuja’s life and teaching with much reference to the later thought of Rāmānuja’s own and other Indian traditions. This is a good representative of modern Indian scholarship.

  • Carman, John. The Theology of Rāmānuja. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1974.

    A standard introduction to the theology of Rāmānuja, with a particular focus on his doctrine of God. A particular focus of the book is on the relationship between divine supremacy and accessibility. There is a helpful discussion of the relationship between Rāmānuja’s thought and that of his successors. There is also an interesting discussion of methodology in religious studies.

  • Lipner, Julius J. The Face of Truth: A Study of Meaning and Metaphysics in the Vedāntic Theology of Rāmānuja. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

    A sophisticated discussion of Rāmānuja’s thought, with insightful chapters on his exegetical techniques and theological methodology, on the finite self, and on Brahman and his embodiment cosmology. In the final chapter the author argues that Rāmānuja’s thought is best described as a “polarity theology” in which he maintains simultaneously a number of distinct theological discourses uniting and distinguishing God and the world.

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