Past Events

On Literary Activism, or a Philosophy of Creativity

South Asia Seminar: Amit Chaudhuri, Writer, Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia

In the last four years, a series of symposiums on "literary activism" took place in Calcutta, Delhi, and Oxford, attempting to open up a fringe space to reconsider creativity in a way that would counter both the market and academic professionalisation. The word "activism" was used semi-ironically, given that part of these symposiums' brief was to enquire into whether creative work comprises an "action" as we ordinarily understand the term. If it doesn't, what kind of "activism" did one mean? This talk will discuss the repercussions of the symposiums so far, what direction they might take in the future, and whether it's possible to rethink the history of creativity and of critique.

Dates: 
Thursday, February 14, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

The Politics of Pleasure: The Case of Wajid ‘Ali Shah

Natalia Di Pietrantonio completed her PhD in History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University in 2018 and her M.A. in South Asian Studies at Columbia University in 2011. Her current book project, Erotic Visions: Poetry, Literature, and Book Arts, critically examines the binaries of sacred/profane and Hindu/Muslim that have shaped the art historical scholarship on South Asian and Islamic Art. She reevaluates representations of copulation, female nudes, and amorous couples produced in and around the Shi’a Muslim court of north India (Avadh) from 1754 to 1857 to reveal a universe of affect and relationality. Her extensive two-year archival research in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Pakistan, and India was supported by fellowships from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Institute of Indian Studies, Historians of Islamic Art Association, Society for the Humanities Research Travel Grant, and the Institute of Historical Research-Mellon. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor and Postdoctoral Fellow of Art History at Scripps College, member of the Claremont Colleges.

This talk examines the ‘Ishqnama manuscript, written by the last Avadhi ruler, Wajid ‘Ali Shah, in 1849. Containing 131 short stories and 103 accompanying miniatures, the ‘Ishqnama opens with Wajid ‘Ali Shah’s first love affair, which he commences at the age of eight. Historians and litterateurs, both past and present, have decontextualized these erotic passages; and therefore they saw and read the ‘Ishqnama as merely signifying sexual decadence and as a truthful sexual biography. And yet, a close visual and textual analysis of the ‘Ishqnama manuscript in its entirety reveals a more complex work that employs these erotic and textual devices to promote Wajid ‘Ali Shah’s political legitimacy. By re-suturing image and text, pleasure can be read as productive, such that Wajid ‘Ali Shah’s efforts created an “ishq” philosophy, one that places affective relations within a specific literary and political history.

Dates: 
Tuesday, February 12, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Manifest Anxiety: Managing Religious Conversion in Early 20th Century British Malaya

TAPSA Talk: Hanisah Binte Abdullah Saini, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago

In the early decades of the 20th century, the expanding colonial administration in British Malaya provided attentive reports on cases of conversion into Islam. This was despite a longstanding policy against intruding into matters of religion and customs, which were left entirely to indigenous elites. This paper asks: Why was the colonial administration concerned about conversions into Islam, and how did this reflect the state's evolving policy on religion and customs more generally? Examining administrative memos, newspaper reports, and personal correspondences, this paper situates the colonial state’s anxiety with religious conversion against compounding stresses faced by a rapidly expanding administration.

Dates: 
Thursday, February 7, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)

Building Hinduism in the Land of the Khmer: From Liṅga Mountain to Prosperous Lord

Public lecture by Elizabeth A. Cecil, Assistant Professor, Religions of South & Southeast Asia, Florida State University

Elizabeth A. Cecil is a historian of South and Southeast Asian religions with Sanskrit and Hindi as her primary research languages. Her forthcoming monograph—Mapping the Pāśupata Landscape: Narrative, Place, and the Śaiva Imaginary in Early North India (Brill, 2019) — examines the intersections of religion, politics, and place-making in Early Medieval India. Focusing on the geographic expansion of a religious community called the Pāśupatas, devotees of the Hindu deity Śiva, this project uses narratives, built landscapes, inscriptions, and icons to explore religion as spatial and material practice. With her new projects, she investigates the dynamics of transregional religious networks in early South and Southeast Asia and the use of material media—ranging from monumental temples and inscribed columns to votive sculptures and pocket-sized shrines— to communicate political aspirations and religious ideologies. Her materially grounded work is supported by field research in India, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.

Dates: 
Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - 4:30pm
Swift Hall Common Room

From Weber to Varāha: Toward an Astrological Hinduism

Public Lecture by Marko Geslani, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of South Carolina

Marko Geslani is a historian of religion specializing in ritual studies and medieval Hinduism. His first book, Rites of the God-King: Śānti and Ritual Change in Early Hinduism (OUP 2018), forms a historiographic critique of Hinduism through a history of omen-appeasement (śānti) rituals, from late Vedic ritual manuals to medieval Hindu purāṇas. His current research explores the role of the astrological tradition (jyotiḥśāstra) on the problems of personhood and state formation in early Hinduism. He is also researching the recent history of Hindu studies in the North American Academy from the perspective of Asian American studies.

Dates: 
Monday, January 28, 2019 - 4:30pm
Swift Hall Common Room

Surā in her Cups: Writing a History of Alcohol and Drugs in Pre-modern South Asia

South Asia Seminar: James McHugh, University of Southern California, Dornsife

James McHugh discusses his book project on the history of alcohol in South Asia from the Vedas through the early second millennium CE and beyond. He will give some examples of the ways intoxicating substances are described and theorized in texts, noting the challenges of these sources. Given the immensity of this topic, what sorts of things is it possible to say about alcohol and drugs in the region when working mainly with textual sources, primarily ones in Sanskrit?

Dates: 
Thursday, January 24, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Imperial Infection: An Ecological History of the Third Plague Pandemic in Bombay, India, 1880-1920

TAPSA: Emily Webster, Department of History, University of Chicago

The third plague pandemic looms large in the historiography of colonial India. This attention is warranted, given the disproportionate effects of the pandemic: out of a total of 14 million deaths from plague worldwide during this time, a suspected 12 million occurred in India - more than its region of origin - beginning with the first epidemic in Bombay in 1896. While historians have analyzed the social, political, and intellectual implications of the plague epidemic in Bombay city and in India more broadly, the complexity of plague and its vectors as an epidemiological and ecological force have yet to be explored. This talk will introduce preliminary thoughts on the historical ecology of plague in Bombay, India, from its arrival in 1896 through its eventual decline in the late 1920s. It will examine the unique features of Bombay that may have allowed for the propagation of the disease – namely, mass migration into the city to support the burgeoning cotton industry; overcrowding and unsanitary conditions; social geography; and the many urban improvement projects that may have influenced vector migration and behavior. Drawing on traditional historical data and emerging practices in science and technology studies, this talk will examine the interaction of human and nonhuman actors that allowed Yersinia pestis to take hold in Bombay.

Dates: 
Thursday, January 17, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)

"Visual Amplification and the Remaking of Alandi’s Sacred Skyline"

South Asia Seminar: Anna Schultz, Department of Music, University of Chicago

Every year, hundreds of thousands of varkaris travel to Alandi to visit Sant Dnyaneshwar’s samadhi and listen to devotional songs. For several decades, these songs have been sonically amplified by sound systems, but more recently they have also been visually amplified by an enormous projection screen that transforms one bank of the Indrayani River into a stage for those seated on the other side. This talk addresses how the massive audio-visual structure has reshaped Alandi’s sacred skyline and produced new forms of listening.

Dates: 
Thursday, January 10, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Measuring Futures: Expertise and Postcolonial Politics in Asia

Measuring Futures will comparatively examine the rise and impact of postwar data and planning sciences on development policies, democratic change and political infrastructures in a number of Asian countries, including India, China, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia. This effort is part of a longer series of events at the University of Chicago (under the title New Nations/New Sciences: Cybernetic States), that aimed to revisit historical and anthropological insights on the politics of expertise, to centrally examine the tensions between technocracy and democratic aspirations in the Asian context.

Dates: 
Monday, December 10, 2018 (All day) to Tuesday, December 11, 2018 (All day)

Regional Societies and Frames of Memory in British India: East, West and North

South Asia Seminar: Sumit Guha, University of Texas at Austin

Social memory is defined by its public and societally monitored character. It is made and reproduced within a framework of social and political relations that create and bound a community of thought. I will outline the forms these narratives took and the structuring forces that shaped them by surveying three major regions of British India.

Dates: 
Thursday, December 6, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

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