Welcome to the Committee on Southern Asian Studies

Upcoming Events

Magazines and World Literature Workshop

A workshop with Francesca Orsini (SOAS, UK), Paola Iovene (EALC), Hoyt Long (EALC) and Sascha Ebeling, of UChicago, on the theme of the magazine and world literature.
Much of the recent debate on world literature has revolved around either the curriculum and teaching of World Literature courses, anthologies, or publishers’ series (e.g. Teaching World Literature, Venkat Mani's Recoding World Literature). Yet arguably in many places and for many readers exposure to literatures from other parts of the world largely took place through magazines, and magazines were where foreign books and writers were discussed and reviewed. How is the medium part of the message in the case of the magazine: What kind of experience of world literature do magazines create? Which of the different versions of world literature - the world's classics; the best of X literature; the latest, the contemporary; of similar political affiliation - do particular magazines convey? Does their reliance on short forms (the review, the short note, occasionally the poem or the short story) and on fragmentary, serendipitous, sometimes token offerings produce a particular experience of world literature? How is such an experience different from the more systematic but abstracted ambition of the book series and the course?

In the early twentieth century, Indian periodicals presented world literature as a discovery of the plurality of the world beyond India and the British empire and a redressal of the asymmetric balance and exchange between East and West. For the 1950s and ‘60s, in the context of the Cold War, Andrew Rubin has suggested that “the accelerated transmission of essays and the short story meant that there were newly efficient ways of respatializing world literary time.” Along these lines, Elizabeth Holt has been argued that the “near-simultaneous publication of essays, interviews and sometimes stories and poems in multiple Congress [for Cultural Freedom] journals and affiliated publications engendered a global simultaneity of literary aesthetics and discourses of political freedom and commitment” (Holt). Something similar could also be said for Communist and Third world internationalist magazines like Lotus. This workshop seeks to expand our discussion on world literature to a consideration of the crucial role of magazines, and the particular configurations and experiences of world literature they produced.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 3:00pm
Foster 103

TAPSA Talk: Neither ‘Slaves’ nor ‘Unfree Labor:’ The Hari Movement and the Failure of Language and Analogy

Mishal Khan, doctoral candidate in Department of Sociology, University of Chicago

How was the metaphor of “slavery” deployed by movements struggling against oppression in early twentieth-century India? In this presentation I explore this question by examining the hari movement, which emerged in the 1920s and 30s in pre-partition Sindh. The haris were a category of landless agricultural laborers who made up the majority of the agricultural work force in colonial Sindh. I first reconstruct the demands and grievances of the movement by examining pamphlets, activist writings, and official publications by leading members of the movement. Examining these sources enables us to determine how “freedom” was defined from the perspective of the haris themselves, against definitions of freedom/unfreedom imposed by colonial state actors, and landed elites. Looking at the imagery and arguments used to ground their claims, I examine several key reasons for the movement’s ultimate failure. I show why the analogy with “slavery” failed, how the haris struggled to even be considered “unfree”, and finally I demonstrate how their exploitation was denied as a labor issue at all.

Thursday, October 24, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

TAPSA Talk: Representing and Reclaiming a Mother’s Authority in a Tibetan Female Buddhist Lineage

Peter Faggen, doctoral candidate in History of Religions, University of Chicago Divinity School

This presentation in conjunction with my current dissertation-in-progress analyzes motherhood (both the representation of and actuality) and the construction of authority for Kelzang Drolma (1936-2013) who was the sixth member of a rare Tibetan Buddhist female reincarnate lineage in the eastern Tibetan region of Amdo in Gansu, China. (There are two contiguous female lineages out of 2,000 Tibetan lineages in Tibetan history). Based on my recent fieldwork in Amdo and textual studies, I will compare representations of motherhood as a metaphor in a Buddhist and specifically Tibetan context and an actual mother’s experience to understand the high stakes of memorializing Kelzang’s life as a Buddhist exemplar in the Tibetan biographical genre of namtar. (A namtar chronicles the story of an exemplar’s enlightenment or liberation). Kelzang laicized in 1958 and became a mother of four children during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). She also married three times, endured divorce and domestic violence and a later challenge to her seat by another woman. Whereas this talk will show how an official namtar will attempt to depict Kelzang’s authority as an idealized and accepted Buddhist mother within the ruling patriarchy at Labrang Monastery in Gansu (and also within Kelzang’s family), it will focus more on how oral interviews reclaim an alternative and overlooked narrative about how Kelzang’s actual motherhood directly implicated her authority with others as a fascinating lay religious figure.

Thursday, October 31, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar: 'We Were Always Buddhist:’ Dalit Historiography and the Temporality of Caste

Lucinda Ramberg, Professor in Anthropology, Cornell University

In 1956 anti-caste philosopher and statesman Dr. B.R. Ambedkar called upon his followers to convert to Buddhism as the equalitarian religion of the original inhabitants of the subcontinent. Drawing on ethnographic research, I reflect on the relationship present day Ambedkarites have to the history of ancient Buddhism. I elaborate the implications of statements by Ambedkarite Buddhists such as “we are remembering who we are” and we are reclaiming “our forbidden history” for the temporality of caste in relation to the politics of archaeology, gender, and history.

Thursday, November 7, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar: Brahmins Tryst With Brahminism

Suraj Yengde, Shorenstein Center Post-Doctoral Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School

Can Brahmins participate in the anti-caste struggle? Has there been any history of Brahmins taking upon the Brahmin community to fight bigotry and oppression? History is laden with such examples albeit miniscule.

Brahmins in the caste system enjoy unaccountable privilege and control over the 'lower' declared bodies. Due to their absolute command on power distribution and control, Brahmins become default power-brokers who negotiate unequal relations to their advantage. This can be seen with the overwhelming representation of Brahmins in all the positions of power in India. Be it politics, media, bureaucracy, judiciary and religious institutions, Brahmins continue to remain key players.

This definite control on the resources give the minority Brahmin community an added advantage to reproduce oppressions on each level of operation. In the gamut of anti-caste struggle, Dalit discourse is prominently targeted against Brahminical values of the Brahmin community. This remained a remarkable success of the Brahminical project in India. However, there were few notable exceptions among Brahmins who defied the regularity of Brahminness and instead took intellectual arms against fellow orthodox Brahmins who wanted to reproduce caste oppressions. In this talk we will deal with the questions of right to agency among the oppressors to engage with unequal sociological relations of oppression by looking at Brahmins participation in the anti-caste struggle.

Thursday, November 14, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

TAPSA talk: “Testing Satsang: Standardized Testing and Transnational Organizing in Swaminarayan Hinduism”

Andrew Kunze, doctoral candidate in Divinity School, University of Chicago

In recent decades, some guru-led bhakti movements have instituted standardized testing for their devotees, which recasts test-taking as a devotional exercise, regularizes theological knowledge across the transnational organization, and trains new volunteers to support their growing Hindu community (satsang). One Swaminarayan Hindu organization, known as BAPS (Bochasanwasi Sri Akshar-Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha), established its own standardized tests, called “Satsang Exams,” in 1972. Since then, Satsang Exams have become a massive annual event, and BAPS has become one of the largest Hindu organizations in the diaspora. The guru of BAPS, Mahant Swami Maharaj, encourages devotees to participate, famously saying “The fruit of Satsang Exams is Akshardham” [the abode of God]. And in 2017, for example, the BAPS Exam Department in Ahmedabad, Gujarat processed over 48,000 exam papers in Gujarati, Hindi, and English, submitted from 515 BAPS testing centers in India and 172 centers abroad. Drawing from historical and ethnographic research among Swaminarayan test-takers and administrators, this presentation will explore the devotional motivations and organizational benefits that make standardized testing so popular in transnational Hinduism.

Thursday, November 21, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar- Violence and Wages: State Welfare and Social Order in Postcolonial Madras, 1950s-60s

Rupa Visvanath, Professor of Indian Religions, University of Gottingen

In mid-twentieth century Madras state, a primary political goal was to produce a socially harmonious citizenry, while the state’s developmental commitment was to overseeing and governing poverty through the institution of a massive welfare apparatus. This paper reveals the institutional and ideological relations between the two aims in the governance of “Harijan” citizens. Harijans required state intervention when they became victims of violence from caste landlords and employers; at the same time, Harijans were a special subcategory of the poor for whom a Harijan Welfare Department was tasked with the provision of an array of developmental schemes. This paper uses the debates and political activity surrounding a major piece of welfare legislation, the Fair Wages Act, to illustrate how a balance was struck. Correctly determining a fair wage was essential to poverty alleviation. Yet wage regulation also concerned the careful management of agrarian class relations so as to avoid unrest—the miscalibrated wage could, if too low, redound in strikes, and then foment anti-Dalit attacks, it was reasoned. But it could not be so high as to ignite the political opposition of employers. How did a welfare regime organized by caste calculate these political costs, and what can this tell us more broadly about the nature of racialized welfare in modern democracies?

Thursday, December 5, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

The Study of Southern Asia at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is one of the leading centers for the study of Southern Asia. Countries in which we have scholarly expertise include in South Asia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka; and in Southeast Asia, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tibet (as an autonomous region), and Vietnam.

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