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South Asia Seminar: “The Implied Donkey: Bhakti and the Fear of the Public in Premodern India”

Christian Novetzke, Professor at South Asia Program and Comparative Religion, College of Arts and Sciences Endowed Professor, University of Washington

Before there was Marathi literature, there was a Marathi public. Perhaps slightly earlier than the advent of Marathi literary vernacularization in the 13th century, inscriptions issued in Marathi during the reign of the Yadavas from 1187 CE onwards evinced an awareness of a Marathi-speaking public as well as a particular socio-political stance toward that public. This paper traces this recognition through two sets of inscriptional material. The first involves the ubiquitous “donkey curse,” a disturbing imprecation of sexual violence usually conveyed in Sanskrit, but in Maharashtra only ever rendered in Marathi and with regularity across the political territory of the Yadavas, and then well beyond. The second set involves bhakti or devotionalism in which explicit reference is made to “the people of bhakti,” the bhaktijana, in regard to the nascent worship of Vitthal in Pandharpur. The paper argues that these two sets of inscriptions point, in their own ways, toward a Marathi public constituted by the denizens of everyday life, the janata, who are recognized, addressed, and even feared through these inscriptions. This recognition by politically powerful elites suggests the public discursive space into which the first extant works of Marathi literature would emerge—the Lilacharitra (c. 1278 CE) and the Jnaneshwari (c. 1290 CE). These works, in turn, enlivened debates in colloquial Marathi about social equity in terms of caste and gender, providing one strand of the genealogy of a nascent public sphere in premodern India.

Thursday, March 29, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

TAPSA: “The Politics of Catholic Conversion and Colonialism”

Aditi Shirodkar, doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science

Beginning in 1510, Portuguese colonialists led a brutal, sweeping Christianization program throughout Goa, the capital of Portugal’s empire in Asia. In time, almost all natives in the territory converted to Catholicism. However, many natives expressed devotion far in excess of what was mandated: some sought greater immersion in theological studies and accession to the clergy, going as far as Rome when these were denied in Goa. The paper asks, therefore: How were some natives moved to convert with manifest ardor to an imposed faith? Relying upon original archival research from Goa and Rome, this paper reflects upon these questions through the lives of two native converts to Catholicism who asserted their right to preach to their fellow Goans. The paper argues that conversion to Catholicism provided Goans with a spiritual and intellectual vocabulary that was, paradoxically, empowering: a set of governing rules and ethical ideals that allowed natives to claim moral authority for themselves and question the political authority by which they were governed. It also granted them access to the Roman Catholic Church; the same autonomous body that provided the legitimizing premise for Portuguese colonialism now also provided the basis for novel challenges from the colonized. Thus, the Goan case shows how universalizing religious norms can transcend the constraining power of a repressive political order.

Thursday, April 5, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar: “Indo-Humanism and Brahmin Identity in Early Modern Goa”

Stuart McManus, Postdoctoral Fellow, Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, University of Chicago

In early modern Goa, Jesuit missionaries in collaboration with local high-caste Christians codified Konkani grammar and collected vernacular versions of canonical South Asian texts. This led to the creation of a scholarly culture of "Indo-Humanism", which channeled local rhetorical and philosophical traditions within a Neo-Roman humanist framework. This paper addresses the particular caste valency of Indo-Humanism, taking as a starting point the Konkani sermons of the Jesuit missionary, Miguel de Almeida.

Thursday, April 12, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

TAPSA: “The Role of Human and Animal Diets in the Socioeconomic Organization of Neolithic, Iron Age, and Early Historic South India: A Zooarchaeological and Dental Microwear Study”

Kelly Wilcox, doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology

This paper examines faunal remains from the site Kadebakele (Karnataka) in order to explore how human-animal relationships and animal-based subsistence practices changed throughout the Neolithic (3000-1200 BCE), Iron Age (1200BCE-300BCE), and Early Historic (300BCE-500CE) periods in South India. In addition, the paper includes recent analyses of dental microwear data and its usefulness in reconstructing changes in herd animal diets and for determining if shifts in animal management practices coincided with periods of overgrazing. Using the results of these analyses, this paper explores how human and animal diets both played an important role in shaping broader changes in socioeconomic organization and land-use choices.

Thursday, April 19, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

TAPSA: "Dancing Corporate: Shifting Transnational Patronage in Indian Contemporary Art Worlds”

Ameera Nimjee, doctoral candidate in the Department of Music (Ethnomusicology)

This paper explores the patronage of Indian dance by multinational "corporate houses" and virtual communities, underscored by the transnational travel of capital in and beyond South Asia. This paper explores how technological and telecommunications companies such as Nokia, NASSCOM, and IBM negotiate contracts with artists to perform and produce affective capital at events, product launches, and through media platforms. The paper focuses on Indian contemporary dance as a case study in the investigation of transnational corporate patronage. Practitioners define the form as one of high art that is visually similar to world traditions of modern dance, in which they draw on abstract movement vocabularies to express responses to issues. Also explored are the aesthetic, kinesthetic, and fiscal mobilities of practitioners within the confines of corporate contracts, and how these contracts challenge national and transnational notions of citizenship in the patronage of Indian art worlds at large.

Thursday, May 17, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

TAPSA: “‘Marwa Na Dena’: Reporting Between the Marginal and the Military”

Ayesha Mullah, doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology

Limited critical scholarship on the Pakistani military establishment has documented its penetration into virtually every sphere of public life, including the bureaucracy and the media, showing how through its allies, with both direct and indirect decision making, the military effectively dominates Pakistani society (Siddiqa 2007). This paper analyzes the ways in which the shadow of the deep state featured in my dissertation fieldwork among news media professionals in Karachi and Islamabad. The paper focuses on the shifts in tone, the anxious laughter and the lengthy pauses that verbose journalists adopted when they would perform an inarticulate critique of the military. Such enactments rest upon the very real dangers of straying past the limits of investigative inquiry in Pakistan, particularly when presented with the fate of their colleagues pursuing critical leads on military activities. How then do Pakistani news media journalists, occupying diverse class positions in professional hierarchies, negotiate their journalistic ethics while operating in a climate of uncertainty that has both fed and threatened their daily work? Based on a series of in-depth interviews, this paper will analyze the politics of producing sensationalist news and the subsequent self-regulation that media professionals must practice in a volatile sociopolitical environment.

Thursday, May 31, 2018 - 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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