Academic discourses on religion in modern South Asia have predominantly searched for ‘essence’ of religious traditions by analysing their ‘source’ and ‘original components’. When this ‘source’ gets recognized, religion is a historically established in its ‘pure and unchanging essence’. This largely Protestant conception of religion then seeks to explain the ‘foreign imports’ and ‘influences’ as derivates from the ‘original’. This conception of religion discounts religion’s capability of change; ‘how traditions emerge, disappear, or evolve over time, how they adapt to different cultural environments, freely assimilating some bits and pieces of those environments, but not others’. With the kind of diversity enriching the social experience of South Asia, religious practices are bound to be fluid, embedded and dialectic. In keeping with the larger aim of exploring the interface between religion and social diversity, it will also be intriguing to understand whether the former overrides the latter or vice-versa. This aspect of religion has remained neglected both as historical experience as well as in the contemporary contexts of globalisation which shapes the social formation of the twenty-first century South Asia.
Several debates since the colonial times have either viewed religion as a narrow social experience guided by sacred texts or projected it as the defining character of modern nation-states. On the contrary, before the advent of colonialism, different regions of South Asia had diverse social experience of religion. Though geographically connected, the region encompassed spectacular diversity and plurality, that had been further enriched through centuries of mutual interactions. The subcontinent's centuries old contact with the world had over a period of time led to the development of large trading towns along the land routes as well as coastal areas. These towns were South Asia's connect with diverse cultures inside the mainland and the world outside, spreading its multiple points of contact with South-East Asia, China, Central Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The contours of these contacts were economic, political and also social. In fact, the most lasting of these contacts was social, interspersing languages, religion and society at large. Pre-colonial South Asia also significantly comprised of a diverse spectrum of tribes spread across the geographical contours and practicing primitive, pastoral and/or agro-pastoral subsistence economy, and had points of social contacts with regions within the subcontinent.
Therefore, South Asia comprised of a significant landmass with remarkable ethnic and cultural fluidity, the diverse religious experience of which was probably distinct from that of Europe. Contrary to narrow Oriental paradigm, the region had its complex mechanism of dialogue and critique. The advent of aggressive colonial knowledge systems gave a serious blow to an intellectual milieu, which encompassed 'diversity' and defined the social experiences of South Asia. Such a challenge to social diversity came both from colonial ethnographers, linguists, historians and enumerators, as well as social reformers- European missionary and indigenous elite- whose theological discourse complemented each other in challenging religious practices in South Asia. Thus, social diversity was the crucial casualty in the colonial administrative enterprise and, perpetuated the ethic and communal vivisection of the subcontinent. Post-colonial South Asia continues to grapple with this complex residue of colonisation that sought to restructure every aspect of life and community in the colony.
This seminar proposes to enlarge the debate on religion and society by arguing that contrary to linear colonial discourses on territoriality and ethnicity, ‘diversity’ defines the everyday experiences in South Asia. Significantly, there is a peculiar similarity in both the symptoms as well as problems that plague contemporary South Asia. Thus, while territoriality remains critical political contour of defining national identities in the region, cultural crossovers and co-existence are a historical reality. Recognition of the diversities of this region is becomes extremely crucial for lasting peace, cooperation and harmony in the subcontinent.
The seminar invites scholars engaged in the study of religion and society in South Asia to present papers on any of the following suggested broad sub-themes;
A limited number of participants will be invited for the seminar. Those interested in participating should send an abstract (500-800 words) of the proposed paper to following Email ID's:
A limited number of participants will be invited for the Conference. Those interested in participating should send title and a synopsis (500-800 words) of the proposed paper along with their C.V. to:-
The last date of submission of title/synopsis of paper alongwith abstract is 20 June 2015. The date for shortlisting of participants is 27 June 2015. Invitation letters to all participants will be sent by 30 June 2015. It is the policy of the Institute to publish the proceedings of the seminars it organizes. Therefore, all invited participants will be expected to submit complete papers to the Academic Resource Officer, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla – 171005 by 05 October 2015. IIAS, Shimla, will be glad to extend you its hospitality during the Seminar period and is willing to reimburse, if required, your rail or air travel expense from your place of current residence in India, or your port of arrival in India, and back.
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