Past Conferences and Workshops

‘Their Lordships are again at great disadvantage in not knowing Sanskrit’: the Privy Council, Mīmāṃsā, and Anantakrishna Shastri

The colonial desire to continue while reforming the pre-existing practices of civil law in British India, so as to govern according to “native” legal customs, was the original driver of the creation of modern Indology. As the British legal and scholarly establishment began to codify versions in English of “Hindu law,” they incorporated various śāstras.

As a result, experts of Southern Asian texts were increasingly drawn into the imperial world created by British legal and fiduciary regimes. Their interactions with the courts can reveal something of the destiny of śāstric practice when adapted into modern settings. In this talk, Chris Minkowski will consider one example: the engagement by the formidable śāstrin Anantakrishna Shastri, with a recommendation concerning Hindu adoption made by the Privy Council to the Queen in 1899.

This event is sponsored by the Śāstram Project at the Neubauer Collegium.

Dates: 
Friday, February 21, 2020 - 5:00pm
Neubauer Collegium

Transnational Approaches to Modern Europe Workshop at the University of Chicago

Please join the Transnational Approaches to Modern Europe Workshop, in conjunction with the Empires and Atlantics Forum and the Nicholson Center for British Studies next Friday, February 21 at 4:30 PM as we welcome Prof. Seth Koven, G.E. Lessing Distinguished Professor of History and Poetics, Rutgers University. Prof. Koven will be presenting a chapter of his current book project, titled: "Educating Conscience in Mid-Nineteenth Century British India." Dr. Zachary Leonard, recent graduate of the Department of History and current Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences, will be providing comment. Prof. Koven's chapter is available on the TAMEW Canvas site, as well as on our website, http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/transnationaleurope/, under the heading "Current Paper". Please contact either kimmey@uchicago.edu or gvaldespino@uchicago.edu for the password.

Dates: 
Friday, February 21, 2020 - 4:30pm
Rosenwald Hall 405

Maratha Mandir: Cartography of a Neighborhood Theater

The Mass Culture Workshop is pleased to welcome Jenisha Borah, PhD Student, Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago. Lunch will be served. For more information, please email either Sophie (sophielynch@uchicago.edu) or Tanya (tanyad@uchicago.edu).

Dates: 
Friday, February 21, 2020 - 11:00am
Cobb 311

Narratives of Siege: Understanding Buddhist/Muslim Conflicts in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand

Public lecture by John Holt, Visiting Professor of Buddhism.

Why have Buddhist and Muslim communities in these three countries, after sharing centuries of largely amicable relations, found themselves recently enmeshed in conditions of inter-communal tension, tensions that have sporadically erupted into armed conflict, in some cases including large-scale state-supported violence against minority Muslim communities? There many socio-economic, political and religious factors that have exacerbated inter-communal relations in the recent past. Notwithstanding a consideration of these various compelling factors, how each of the six respective communities in these three countries understands their contemporary predicaments through narratives of siege is the focus of this lecture.

Professor Holt is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor Emeritus of the Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies at Bowdoin College, where he has taught since 1978. His teaching focuses Asian religious traditions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, and theoretical approaches to the study of religion. In 1982, he organized and founded the Inter-collegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program for a consortium of private liberal arts colleges, and in 1986 he became the first chair of Bowdoin’s Asian Studies Program. Holt spent three separate terms as the Visiting Professor of History and Comparative Religion at Sri Lanka’s University of Peradeniya. He was awarded a Doctor of Letters from the same institution for his contributions to Sri Lankan and Buddhist studies. He was selected as the Alumnus of the Year by the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2007, and has received numerous research awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014.

His publications include Discipline: the Canonical Buddhism of the Vinayapitaka (Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981), A Guide to the Buddhist Religion (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1981), Buddha in the Crown (NY: Oxford U. Press, 1991), for which he was awarded an American Academic Book Award for Excellence in 1992; and The Buddhist Visnu (NY: Columbia University Press, 2005), a groundbreaking study analyzing the assimilation and transformation of the Hindu cult of Visnu by the Sinhala Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

Dates: 
Monday, February 17, 2020 - 4:30pm
Swift Common Room

How Patrons Select Brokers: Efficacy and Loyalty in Indian Cities

Tariq Thachil, Associate Professor, Vanderbilt University. This lecture is hosted by the Department of Political Science and COSAS.

Scholars of urban politics in India have yet to systematically understand how party leaders select the rank-and-file ‘brokers’, ‘fixers’, or intermediaries that connect them to their local constituencies. We study how these choices are made through in-depth fieldwork in two mid-sized Indian cities: Jaipur and Bhopal. We focus on how local party leaders incorporate brokers who connect them to vote-rich slum settlements. We draw on qualitative fieldwork to argue that local leaders must balance two key concerns: a broker’s efficacy among slum residents and their loyalty to party and the leader. We then test the relative importance of these concerns through a survey-based choice experiment conducted with 343 ward-level political leaders. We verify our findings with unique data on the actual promotion patterns for 629 slum leaders in Jaipur and Bhopal.

Dates: 
Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 12:00pm
Foster 107

Regimes of Knowledge in the Early Indic World, Part of the 2019-2020 Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, Śāstram: Form, Power, and Translation in Indic Scholasticism

Venue: Franke Institute for the Humanities, Room S-102, Regenstein Library, open to all members of the University community

The domain of śāstra – disciplined, textualized systematic thought, composed in Sanskrit and other languages – forms premodern southern Asia’s greatest archive for the history of knowledge. The intellectual sophistication of these many domains and their intertextual complexity present formidable challenges to interpretation, often to the expense of framing wider questions about what could be termed śāstra’s micro- and macro-sociologies. In this two day symposium, leading scholars will present attempts to rectify this imbalance, seeking to offer preliminary theories and case studies of its worldly existence from Kashmir to Java, and from antiquity into the medieval period.
Schedule:

Friday, February 7th:

1:30: Welcome, Opening Remarks, and Introduction
2:00-2:45 Isabelle Ratié (Paris-III) "A śāstra for whom? On the intended readership of the Pratyabhijñā treatise"
2:45-3:00 Response (Gary Tubb, SALC, UChicago)
3:00-3:30 Discussion
3:30-4:00 Break
4:00-4:45 Whitney Cox (SALC, UChicago) “Yāmuna’s insurgent Brahmanism”
4:45-5:00 Response (Anand Venkatkrishnan, Divinity, UChicago)
5:00-5:30 Discussion
5:30-6:30 Reception

Saturday, February 8th:

12:15 Welcome
12:30-1:15 Tom Hunter (UBC/Neubauer), “When Śāstram Met Literature: the Tale of Tantri in the Language Order of Premodern Java”
1:15-1:30 Response (Andrew Ollett, SALC UChicago)
1:30-2:00 Discussion
2:00-2:30 Break
2:30-3:15 Mark McClish (Northwestern), "Nīti as Śāstra: Text, Tradition, and Authority in Ancient Statecraft"
3:15-3:30 Response (Wendy Doniger, SALC/Divinity emerita, UChicago)
3:30-4:00 Discussion
4:00-4:15 Wrap-up
4:15-5:30 Reception

Dates: 
Friday, February 7, 2020 - 1:30pm to Saturday, February 8, 2020 - 5:30pm
Room S-102, Franke Institute for the Humanities, Regenstein Library

“Resounding Islam: Occluded Muslim Histories of Modern South Indian Rāga-Based Music”

Davesh Soneji, Associate Professor of South Asian Studies, University of Pennsylvania

This talk examines the inaudible yet polyphonic pasts of modern South Indian rāga-based music by exploring the long and complex history of Islamic musical production in Tamil-speaking South India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It follows three genres that populate the Tamil Islamic sonic landscape: the kīrttaṉa, the patam, and the Arabic-inflected muṉājāttu, and analyzes these in relation to highly localized Tamil Ṣufi devotional cultures on the one hand, as well as formal, canonical traditions of Tamil Islamic literary production on the other. It also locates this music in the deeply intermedial world of cultural production that predates the “classicization” of popular rāga-based music in the 1920s: a world in which lyrics and paratextual materials stand out in sharp relief for their aesthetic and theological uniqueness; in which intermedial exchanges between arts like dance, music, and drama are wholly natural; and in which no sonic borrowing or repurposing is considered irreverent or uncreative. The modern Tamil theatre (known today as icai natakam), Islamic and Catholic musical forms, courtesan music, and the music of the wider para-Tamil Indian Ocean world all constituted the soundscapes of what I call “popular rāga-based music” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The focus on Tamil Islamic music in this paper also raises significant questions about the social organization of rāga-based music in South India, and also about its relationship to larger questions of religious and aesthetic pluralism in the cultural life of modern Tamilnadu. Perhaps most significantly, it forces us to reconsider the basic premises of the supercultural force represented by “classical” music in modern South India, which was molded by the politics and aesthetics of upper-caste cultural nationalism, and certainly today, thrives as the very aesthetic heart of the politics of communal majoritarianism in this region.

Dates: 
Tuesday, November 5, 2019 - 5:00pm to 6:30pm
Foster 103

“Buddhists’ Contribution to South Asian Lexicography: Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan”

A talk by Lata Mahesh Deokar

Lexicography is one of the oldest traditions of language analysis in South Asia, beginning with the compilation of nighaṇṭus or “word-lists” that focused on “rare, unexplained, vague, or otherwise difficult terms” that occurred in the sacred Vedic literature. Buddhists came to play an important role in shaping traditions of lexicography throughout South Asia.

In this talk, Lata Mahesh Deokar will examine the motivation behind lexicography in India, Sri Lanka and Tibet, the relationship between lexicography and literature, and the role of religious affiliation in the lexicographical project. She will discuss a number of lexicons of Sanskrit, whose authors belonged to the three major religious traditions of India — Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism — as well as lexicons of Pali and Tibetan.

This event is sponsored by the Śāstram project at the Neubauer Collegium.

Dates: 
Monday, November 4, 2019 - 5:00pm to 6:30pm
Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society

“Reconstitutions: Women’s Performance and Aestheticized Caste Politics in Urban South India”

Theater and Performance Studies Workshop by Davesh Soneji, Associate Professor, Chair of Graduate Studies, Department of South Asia Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Davesh Soneji is Associate Professor in the Department of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at the intersections of social and cultural history, religion, and anthropology. For the past two decades, he has produced research that focuses primarily on religion and the performing arts in South India, but also includes work on gender, class, caste, and colonialism. He is best known for his work on the social history of professional female artists in Tamil and Telugu-speaking South India and is author of Unfinished Gestures: Devadāsīs, Memory, and Modernity in South India (University of Chicago Press, 2012), which was awarded the 2013 Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize from The Association for Asian Studies (AAS). He is also editor of Bharatanāṭyam: A Reader (Oxford University Press, 2010; 2012) and co-editor, with Indira Viswanathan Peterson, of Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India (Oxford University Press, 2008). He is presently co-editing another volume entitled Dance and the Early South Indian Cinema (forthcoming). He is currently working a new book on the social history of “classical” (Karṇāṭak) music and musical production in South India from the late eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries.

Excerpts from Davesh’s book, Unfinished Gestures, to be read prior to the workshop are available here.

Password: unfinished

This event is free and open to the public. We are committed to making our workshop fully accessible to persons with disabilities. Please direct any questions and concerns to the workshop coordinators, Arianna Gass (ariannagass@uchicago.edu) and Eva Pensis (pensis@uchicago.edu).

Dates: 
Monday, November 4, 2019 - 5:00pm to 6:30pm
Logan 501

“Burmese Buddhist Identity, Gender and Colonial Secularism"

Alicia Turner, Associate Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies, York University

This talk charts a genealogy of Buddhist identity and religious difference in Burma and the ways it has created the preconditions of violence in the present. It seeks to bring together a practical and a theoretical problem. First, how do we understand the anti-Muslim discourse and genocide in Burma in relation to Buddhism? Second, if has Saba Mahmood has demonstrated, secularism entwines the construction of gender with the production of religious difference what happens when religion is taken not as the mechanism of women’s restriction, but as the source of their liberation? Rejecting the idea of Burmese Buddhist nationalism as irrational or excessive religiosity I interrogate the secular colonial origins of Burmese religious divisions in discourses of tolerance and freedom for women. Far from colonial secularism initiating a universal liberal framework for pluralism, such discourses instantiated religious difference as the conceptual ground for identity. My work tracks the secular construction of Buddhism as a World Religion imagined as an Asian reflection of European liberal values. Secularist colonial policies constructed Indian Muslims as the foil to the valorized liberalism of Burmese Buddhists. Burmese Buddhist and nationalist thought in the twentieth century then interwove the Indian religious other and the self-identification of Buddhism with religious tolerance and the freedom of Burmese women. It is this discourse has animated the contemporary Buddhist nationalist rhetoric arguing that because Buddhism is so tolerant it is at particular risk of being overrun by intolerant religious others. This history offers us a way of understanding the contemporary situation in Burma and suggests the equal need to consider how the same discourses shape North American popular ideas of Buddhism and scholarly research agendas.

Alicia Turner is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Humanities at York University in Toronto. An expert in Buddhism in Burma/Myanmar, she is interested in the intersections of colonialism, nationalism and secularism. Her first book Saving Buddhism: Moral Community and the Impermanence of Colonial religion explores concepts of sāsana, identity and religion through a study of Buddhist lay associations. She has co-authored The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk who Faced Down the British Empire (Oxford 2020), which tells the story of an extraordinary Irish sailor who became a Buddhist monk and anti-colonial activist in early twentieth-century Asia in order to explore multi-ethnic plebian Asian networks at the heart Buddhist reform. She is currently working on a book, entitled Buddhism’s Plural Pasts: Religious Difference and Indifference in Colonial Burma, that explores the workings of colonial secularism through a genealogy of religious division.

Dates: 
Monday, November 4, 2019 - 4:30pm
Swift Hall Common Room

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