Past Events

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Modern scholarship on Indian madrasas has often deemed them to be beholden to an outdated curriculum first devised in the 18th century.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.

Thursday, October 10, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Screening of Janani's Juliet, a film by Pankaj Rishi Kumar

Synopsis: Deeply disturbed by a spate of honor killings in India this documentary sees Indianostrum, a Pondicherry based theatre group, setting out to introspect the implications of caste, class and gender through an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. What emerges in the process is a critical reflection and commentary on the contemporary world, where love struggles to survive.

About the filmmaker: After graduating from the FTII Pune, India, in 1992, with a specialization in Film Editing, Pankaj was assistant editor on Sekhar Kapur's ‘Bandit Queen.’ After editing numerous documentaries and TV serials, he made his first film, Kumar Talkies. Subsequently, Pankaj has become a one-man crew producing, directing, shooting and editing his own films under the banner of Kumar Talkies. His films have been screened at film festivals all over the world. He has won grants from Hubert Bals, IFA, Jan Vrijman, AND (Korea), Banff, Majlis, Sarai and Pankaj was awarded an Asia Society fellowship at Harvard Asia Centre (2003). He is an alumnus of Asian Film Academy (Pusan) and Berlin Talents (2016). Pankaj also curates and teaches. (

Tuesday, October 8, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

The Committee for South Asian Foreign Language Area National Resource Center Studies, 1999-2019

A talk by Irving Birkner, former Associate Director of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies

Irving Birkner once sent a faculty member into the field with $10,000 in his sock. He offered a KitchenAid mixer as payment and figured out what to do when an alumnus was looking for a good home for their hurdy gurdy. Learned people called him "ugly Liz," "office monkey" and "the office pinata." There were tour boats full of hard drinking literature scholars, getting lost in the Pentagon parking lot, an attack by an actual monkey and lots and lots of paperwork. Also, two broken teeth. In this talk, he'll offer poorly thought out reflections about his 20 years at UChicago, the rise and durability of the administrative institution, and the place he began and ended his time at Chicago, the Committee on Southern Asian Studies. Early in his career, Birkner sought to be a diplomat, an intelligence officer or a teacher. Instead, he became a mid-level higher education bureaucrat and is very happy about that.

Dinner to be served after.

Monday, October 7, 2019 - 5:00pm
Classics 110

[A Talk with Ambai] Body in Living Spaces: Reading, Writing and Archiving Women

This talk will be about ways of viewing contemporary Tamil literature, the acts of reading, writing and translation and about the need to archive women's history, women's lives and women's expression. The talk will attempt to cover a wide range of experiences from the personal to the universal.

Dr. C.S. Lakshmi has been an independent researcher in Women's Studies for the last forty years. She has a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and has worked as a Research Officer in Indian Council of Historical Research and has also been a college lecturer in Delhi for two years. She received the Ford Foundation Fellowship to work on a project entitled Illustrated Social History of Women in Tamil Nadu in 1981, and in 1992 she received the Homi Bhabha Fellowship to do a project on women musicians, dancers and painters. This research work has been brought out in two volumes by Kali for Women as Singer and the Song and Mirrors and Gestures.

She writes fiction under the pseudonym Ambai in Tamil and is a well-known writer in Tamil. Her stories have been translated in five volumes entitled A Purple Sea, In a Forest, A Deer, Fish in a Dwindling Lake, A Night with a Black spider and A Meeting on the Andheri Overbridge. The second book shared the Hutch-Crossword award for translated fiction in 2007. She received the Pudumaipiththan memorial lifetime achievement for her contribution to literature from the U S Tamil cultural organisation Vilakku in 2005. She was awarded the Lifetime Literary Achievement Award of Tamil Literary Garden, University of Toronto, Canada, for the year 2008. She was awarded the Kalaignyar Mu. Karunanidhi Porkizi award for fiction awarded by the Booksellers and Publishers’ Association of South India in the Chennai book fair, January 2011. The University of Madras awarded her for excellence in literature in the centenary celebrations of the International Women’s Day in March 2011.

Her non-fictional works in English include The Face Behind the Mask: Women in Tamil Literature (Vikas, New Delhi, 1984), An Idiom of Silence: An Oral History And Pictorial Study of Art, Consciousness and Women in a Series entitled Seven Seas and Seven Mountains. First volume: The Singer and the Song published by Kali for women, New Delhi, 2000, Second Volume: Mirrors and Gestures published by Kali for women, New Delhi, 2002, The Unhurried City: Writings on Chennai (Ed) published by Penguin Books, 2004, Walking Erect with An Unfaltering Gaze – Autobiographical book written for the When I Was Young series of National Book Trust, 2013, Black Coffee in a Coconut Shell: Caste As Lived Experience – a collection of essays in Tamil on personal experience of caste edited by Perumal Murugan translated from Tamil published by Sage/Yoda Press, New Delhi, 2018.

She is currently the Director of SPARROW (Sound & Picture Archives for Research on Women). She lives in Mumbai with her filmmaker friend Vishnu Mathur, who also happens to be her husband, in a small third-floor flat with a view of the sea, along with her twenty-three year old foster daughter Khintu Saud and her two brothers Krishna and Sonu who brighten up her life.

Ambai’s select short stories have been translated into Swedish (Flod, Karavan,2008)) and in French by Zulma (De haute lute, 2015)

She regularly translates poems from English and Hindi to Tamil and from Tamil to English. She has translated into English a book of more than thirty personal-experience essays on caste edited by Perumal Murugan in Tamil into English as Black Coffee in a Coconut Shell (Sage/Yoda Press, 2018). A book of poems, Fragrance of Peace by Irom Sharmila, the activist from North East, has been translated into Tamil by her and published by Kalachuvadu in 2012.

Monday, October 7, 2019 - 12:30pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar: An Evening with Anand Venkatkrishnan and Sarah P. Taylor

Join us as we kick off this quarter's TAPSAs and South Asia Seminars with a discussion led by Dr. Anand Venkatkrishnan, Assistant Professor, History of Religions, and Sarah Pierce Taylor, Assistant Professor, Literature and Visual Culture, of University of Chicago Divinity School.

Thursday, October 3, 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.

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

The Middleman

Doc Films Screening: The Middleman

7pm & 9:30pm

Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 7:00pm
Doc films 1212 E 59th St # 3, Chicago, IL 60637

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.

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

Company Limited

Doc Films Screening: Company Limited

7pm & 9:30pm

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Chicago Tamil Forum Keynote: “The Language of Christians and Christian-Tamil – The Peculiar Journey of the 17th century Śaivite Poet Tāyumāṉavar”

South Asia Seminar and keynote speaker for Chicago Tamil Forum: Srilata Raman, Department of Study of Religion, University of Toronto

The 19th century saw intensive missionary activity in the Tamil region of South India. Particularly enduring proved to be the work of the Scudder family, evangelical Christians preachers from the Dutch Reformed Church of North America, who lived and preached in the North Arcot area of the Madras Presidency from the early 19th – 21st century. Prominent among this family was Henry Martyn Scudder (1822-1895), a fine Tamil scholar who wrote a compilation of preaching tracts called The Bazaar Book or the Vernacular Preacher’s Companion published in 1865. This work dealt extensively with the poetry of the Śaivite poet of the 17th century, Tāyumāṉavar, whose works endured and were immensely popular as part of the oral Tamil tradition in the 19th century. The Bazaar Book sees Tāyumāṉavar as a Crupto-Christian whose religious views are nothing other than Christian truths. This paper discusses the appropriation
of Tāyumāṉavar in the context of the emergence and consolidation of Christian-Tamil as a unique form of Tamil with its own conceptual vocabulary, thus also exploring what this language and the literature that it is embedded in might say about what is to be considered “Tamil” both linguistically and culturally in the second half of the second millennium.

Thursday, May 23, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103