Upcoming TAPSA Talks

Theory and Practice in South Asia (TAPSA)

The workshop is designed to keep faculty and graduate students of social science and humanistic disciplines concerned with South Asia in touch with new directions in the field by providing interdisciplinary models of methodological and substantive approaches. The Workshop makes a special point of crossing the boundary between the humanities and social sciences. It collaborates with the South Asia Seminar, one dedicated to graduate student presentations, the other to presentations by in-resident or visiting scholars and faculty. The South Asia Seminar series and the TAPSA Workshop bring together not only scholars from various disciplines, but make a special point of attracting scholars from South Asia. Their visits are designed to promote continuing exchanges with recent work on the sub-continent and to introduce graduate students to future colleagues in South Asia.

For more information about TAPSA, please visit the TAPSA blog.

All events are open to the public.

The South Asia Seminar Series and TAPSA Talks meet on alternating Thursdays at 5:00PM-6:00PM in Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street).


TAPSA: Letter writing is the mingling of souls not the drawing near of dust: Scholarly epistolography as companionship in eighteenth-century North India

Daniel Morgan, PhD Candidate in SALC, University of Chicago

Scholars of Persianate intellectual practices in early-modern South Asia generally argue that authoritative knowledge was “located primarily in persons not books” and that texts were thus transmitted in the context of oral recitals. Such transmission required the student to engage in companionship (ṣuḥbat) with a teacher to ensure correct comprehension of texts, as well as for the cultivation of suitable ethical comportment (ādāb). What such accounts disregard, however, is that letters – between scholars of equal standing, or between teachers and students – were themselves often considered to be a form of “companionship” (iṣṭiḥāb, dūstī) and could serve, therefore, as a medium for the remote transmission of authoritative knowledge and the cultivation of right action. Indeed, some letter writers refer to the superiority of the letter over physical companionship because it allowed for a meeting of souls without the intrusion of the material body.
This paper examines eighteenth-century letter-writing manuals, as well as Persian and Arabic letter collections by scholars of North India, to consider the ways in which epistolary communications served, in Deena Goodman’s memorable phrase, as “an absence made present”. The paper considers both the self-statement of eighteenth-century letter writers as well as their practices (the request and receipt of remote “authorisations” for certain textual genres, the circulation of unfinished manuscripts, and collaboration on long-distance book projects). The paper also considers the transmission of huṅdīs (financial promissory notes) within these networks, to think about how financial and scholarly “credit” was a key feature in the persistence of remote exchanges. The paper thus aims to nuance our understanding of the modalities of scholarly companionship in eighteenth century North India and thus to contribute to wider discussions of the role of epistolography and companionship in early-modern Persianate societies.

Dates: 
Thursday, February 27, 2020 - 5:00pm
Foster 103