Past TAPSA Talks

The Emperor and His Attendants: Proximity, Intimacy and Politics in Royal Mughal Households

TAPSA: Emma Kalb, University of Chicago Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations

Although most often analyzed in terms of their role in relation to the harem, both in secondary literature and the comparative context, this talk focuses on eunuchs’ less-studied function in relation to the inner male spaces of the palace or camp. Both in text and image, eunuchs appear as figures both marking and controlling the perimeters of such spaces, in the process playing an important part in how access, intimacy and hierarchical relations were spatialized. As we will see, this situation not only gave eunuchs an important role in mediating elite social interactions, but furthermore entangled them in at-times-dangerous political conflicts. In this way, exploring how eunuchs inhabited this precarious position serves to illuminate the uneasy intimacies that could exist within elite Mughal households.

Dates: 
Thursday, May 30, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Polemic and Doxography in Haribhadrasūri

TAPSA: Anil Mundra, University of Chicago Divinity School

The notion of “polemic” is often used but rarely theorized by scholars of premodern South Asia. Meanwhile, the term “doxography,” originally coined for classical Western philosophical surveys, has gained currency in recent decades in the study of Sanskrit texts. Some Indologists conceive of these two genres as largely coextensive, while others would rather stipulate their mutual exclusion. While allowing for their differentiated analytical utility, I will substantiate Wilhelm Halbfass’s hint that no hard division can be drawn between doxography and other ways of dealing with opponents in premodern Sanskrit philosophy by displaying the continuities in the eighth-century Jain scholar-monk Haribhadrasūri’s project from the Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya—the paradigmatic South Asian doxography—through his inter- and intra-religious commentaries, up to his most overtly polemical treatises.

Dates: 
Thursday, June 6, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

TAPSA talk: “Indian Madrasas and Change: Evolution of the Educational System and Curriculum of the Arabic Program at Dar al-'Ulum Deoband, 1866 - the Present”

Aamir Bashir, doctoral candidate in Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

Modern scholarship on Indian madrasas has often deemed them to be beholden to an outdated curriculum first devised in the 18th century. Despite the sweeping nature of the claim, most studies do not engage with the actual contents of the curricula, and those that do fall short of providing a historical analysis of the development of madrasa curricula in the modern period (19th century – the present). This paper seeks to fill this gap by looking at the history of education at Dār al-ʿUlūm Deoband, the oldest and the most prominent of Indian madrasas. More specifically, this article focuses on two things, the evolution of the overall educational system at Dār al-ʿUlūm Deoband, and of the curriculum of its Arabic program (darajāt-i ʿarabiyya) aka dars-i niẓāmī. Using primary sources, I describe how Dār al-ʿUlūm Deoband’s educational system has evolved over time to become a 14 – 17-year long system in which the Arabic program is now just one component. Using seven curricula dating from 1870 through 2015, I demonstrate that Deobandī madrasas have been updating their curricula regularly. However, the pace of change is much slower than what the reformers (both insiders and outsiders) call for and is limited to the ancillary sciences (ʿulūm āliya) and introductory levels of the religious sciences (ʿulūm sharʿiyya or ʿulūm ʿāliyya). Furthermore, there seems to be an almost non-existent engagement with modern knowledge. I conclude by offering some preliminary explanations for the way these curricula have evolved, mainly focusing on the colonial and post-colonial contexts of South Asia.

Dates: 
Thursday, October 10, 2019 - 5:00pm
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.

Dates: 
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.

Dates: 
Thursday, October 31, 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.

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

TAPSA: Mai Misra, Multivalence and Materiality in the Sidi (African-Indian) Sufi Tradition

Jazmin Graves, doctoral candidate in South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

This presentation explores multivalent conceptions of the African Sufi saints honored in Gujarat and Maharashtra in order to analyze the veneration of Mai Misra in the Sidi Sufi tradition. While select rituals historically and contemporarily provide continuity between disjointed waves of the African diaspora in India, the material culture surrounding Mai Misra’s veneration highlights processes of accommodation by which displaced Africans - particularly women - assimilated into new locales in nineteenth century Gujarat.

Dates: 
Thursday, January 30, 2020 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

TAPSA: Bilvamaṅgala in Bengal: Biographical Thought, Inexpressibility, and Other Mysteries

Ishan Chakrabarti, PhD Candidate in SALC, University of Chicago

In 1510 Caitanya made a pilgrimage to South India, where he was captivated by the Kṛṣṇakarṇāmṛta (Ambrosia for Kṛṣṇa’s Ears), an anthology of Sanskrit verses about Kṛṣṇa written by the fourteenth-century poet Līlāśuka Bilvamaṅgala. Around the end of the sixteenth century, Caitanya’s followers produced two commentaries on this text. Bilvamaṅgala struggled with the ultimate inexpressibility of the divine through ordinary poetic language. He wound up putting Sanskrit poetics in crisis while coming up with ways to express what cannot be said. Caitanya’s early followers reflect on Bilvamaṅgala’s aporetic poetics and its conditions of possibility and impossibility through a turn to biographical criticism, elucidating the Kṛṣṇakarṇāmṛta through the often-mysterious implied life-experiences of the author. This paper looks at Bilvamaṅgala’s aporetic poetics and the structure of early Gauḍīya biographical thought as it reckons with Bilvamaṅgala reckoning with the aporia of talking about Kṛṣṇa.

Dates: 
Thursday, February 13, 2020 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

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