South Asia Seminar Series

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.

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

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.

Dates: 
Thursday, March 29, 2018 - 5:00pm
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South Asia Seminar: "When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics"

Milan Vaishnav, Director and Senior Fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

In India, the world’s largest democracy, the symbiotic relationship between crime and politics raises complex questions. For instance, why do voters elect (and even reelect) them, to the point that a third of state and national legislators assume office with pending criminal charges? Political scientist Milan Vaishnav will discuss findings from a recent book which examines the marketplace for criminal politicians by drawing on fieldwork on the campaign trail, large surveys, and an original database on politicians’ backgrounds. The result is the first systematic study of an issue that has profound implications for democracy both with and beyond India’s borders.

Dates: 
Thursday, February 22, 2018 - 5:00pm
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South Asia Seminar: "Gaining a Name for Generosity: Ethics and Exemplarity in the Tales of Hatim Ta'i"

Pasha Khan, Chair in Urdu Language and Culture, Assistant Professor, Institute of Islamic Studies McGill University

The name of the pre-Islamic Arab Hātim Tā'ī has been a synonym for generosity in Islamicate texts from Andalusia to Southeast Asia, and from biographies of the Prophet Muhammad to Bollywood films. Hātim became the protagonist of tales of extreme generosity, including the 18th-century Indo-Persian Hātim-nāma, in which he gives his own flesh to creatures in need, in a manner reminiscent of the Boddhisatvas of the jātaka stories. This talk explores the economy of the "nām" (name and fame) that Hātim gains in exchange for his sometimes scarcely believable open-handedness, as articulated most strikingly by Sa'dī Shīrazī in 13th-century Iran, and echoed in the reflections on dāna (giving) in the 19th-century Hātim-nama in Braj Bhasha, written by the Sikh poet Saundhā for the ruler of Punjab, Ranjīt Singh. How has the counter-gift of the name worked to render effective the ethical exemplarity of Hātim, often in spite of his status as a non-Muslim? What might have been the limits placed upon, or the damage done to, Hātim's ethics on account of his gaining a name for his generosity?

Dates: 
Thursday, February 8, 2018 - 5:00pm
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South Asia Seminar: "The Way of the Poet-King: Two Authors, Two Models, Two Languages"

Andrew Ollett, University of Chicago, SALC, Visiting faculty member; Harvard University, Society of Fellows, Post-Doc
Sarah Pierce Taylor, Associate, COSAS

The Way of the Poet-King (Kavirājamārgaṁ), composed around 870, has a strong claim to being the earliest Kannada text to survive in manuscript form, and arguably did more than any other text to establish this “regional language” of South India as a literary idiom more or less on par with Sanskrit. The Way can be characterized, fairly, as a project of the Imperial Rāṣṭrakūṭa court, as a transcreation of an important work of poetics in Sanskrit, namely Daṇḍin’s Mirror of Poetry (Kāvyādarśa), and as a watershed moment in the history of Kannada literature. Our talk will take another look at these three aspects of the Way, but we will emphasize the “twos” that make each of them more complex: its two authors (Śrīvijaya and Nr̥patuṅga), the two works of poetics that served as its primary models (Daṇḍin’s Mirror and Bhāmaha’s Ornament), and the two languages whose relationship to each other is one of the text’s primary concerns (Sanskrit and Kannada).

Dates: 
Thursday, January 25, 2018 - 5:00pm
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South Asia Seminar: "Indian Detective Fiction and the Reflection of World Literature"

Laura Brueck, Associate Professor of Hindi Literature, South Asian Studies, and Comparative Literature; Chair, Department of Asian Languages and Cultures; Co-director of Global Humanities Initiative; Northwestern University

The variegated landscape of 20th and 21st century Indian detective fiction illustrates how narrative conventions, styles, and modes of reception traverse multiple linguistic and literary landscapes in modern India. I argue in this paper that a study of Indian detective fiction and the multilingual pathways of its rise to popular dominance can provide new understandings of the diversity of Indian reading publics, the contribution of pulp fiction to modern colloquialisms and styles of speech, and the power of a mass literary culture to help shape notions of law and (dis)order, as well as social convention and transgression.

Dates: 
Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 5:00pm
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South Asia Seminar: “The Highway, Automobility and New Promises in 1960s Bombay Cinema”

Ranjani Mazumdar, Professor of Cinema Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, Delhi

A fascination for color in the 1960s led to Bombay cinema’s mobilization of the hinterland as the site for a new future. With the development of Indian highways and an increase in automobility, a new map of India now occupied the cinematic imagination. This talk will explore the links between the infrastructure of automobile culture, the highway, industrial development outside the city, and 1960s Bombay Cinema.

Dates: 
Thursday, November 16, 2017 - 5:00pm
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South Asia Seminar: “European Science and Colonial Anthropology in British India, c. 1871-1911”

Christopher John Fuller, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, London School of Economics

For the government officials who carried out ethnographic inquiry and anthropological research in colonial India, the aims and objective were always both ‘scientific’ and ‘administrative’. Modern scholarship on colonial anthropology in India has focused on its administrative, political or ideological aspects, whereas this talk will examine its scientific, academic and intellectual aspects, with particular reference to the work of H. H. Risley, British India’s leading official anthropologist.

Dates: 
Thursday, November 2, 2017 - 5:00pm
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South Asia Seminar: "Love Jihad: Pasts and Presents of Communal Fantasies and Moral Panic”

Charu Gupta, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi

This talk will juxtapose disjunctive invocations of Hindu male prowess and constructions of ‘licentious’ and sexually ‘ferocious’ Muslim male on the one hand, and assertions of recalcitrant female desire on the other, in modern India. Taking at its cue manufactured campaigns by hegemonic-homogenized Hindu identities and patriarchies around ‘abductions’ and conversions of Hindu women by Muslim men in early twentieth century colonial north India and in present-day India under the supposed threat of ‘love jihad’, the talk will probe intersections between sexualities, religious identities, intimate lives and political articulations.

The talk will reflect on how the arc of Hindu female desire for men outside the community, even while reifying heteronormativity, means that such desire is visceral and tactile, though it can only be acknowledged when it is being regulated as transgression, producing moral disciplining and everyday violence along the alliance model of sexuality, where through the arrangement of marriages, relations and boundaries of religion are policed.

Dates: 
Thursday, October 12, 2017 - 5:00pm
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South Asia Seminar: "Role of Parks and Sanctuaries in the Conservation of India’s Biodiversity"

Trevor Price, Professor of Biology, Department of Ecology and Evolution, Chair of COSAS

Remarkably, India has lost few animals and plants over the past 100 years, but many populations are now low, and rapid development is increasing threats on nature. Development is also creating opportunities for conservation, especially through eco-tourism. This talk will focus on the history and prospects for nature conservation in India through the maintenance of wildlife parks and sanctuaries.

Dates: 
Thursday, September 28, 2017 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

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