Symposium – Wednesday, October 18th

The Annual Conference on South Asia’s Symposium (formerly known as PreConference) offers half and full-day time slots during which presenters and participants can actively discuss more complex topics that would not be suitable to our shorter 105-minute panel format.

All symposia are open to registered conference attendees – Please see the below schedules to learn more about our exciting lineup this year!

All symposia this year are full day, and will run from 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM CST.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023
Held at Madison Concourse Hotel unless otherwise indicated.

Some symposia may be offered in a hybrid format; information will be shared below as it becomes available.

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AIIS Dissertation to Book Workshop

Description: The American Institute of Indian Studies holds an annual dissertation-to-book workshop at the ACSA, co-sponsored by the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies, the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, and the American Institute of Sri Lankan Studies. The workshop aims to help a select number of recent PhDs re-vision their doctoral dissertations as books. Author participants will submit a sample chapter and draft book proposal in advance. The interdisciplinary workshop will begin at 7 pm the day before the scheduled day-long symposium for a “Secrets of Publishing” Q&A session. During the day-long symposium sessions, each of three groups of approximately eight authors and two to three mentors will work intensively together discussing each project. We conclude the workshop with an all-group dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. Faculty from a range of disciplines and areas of expertise will serve as mentors. Each mentor will have published at least one book and will specialize in a range of South Asian regions (including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) and come from various disciplinary backgrounds, including anthropology, history, literature, media studies, gender studies, and religious studies.

Organizer: Sarah Lamb (Brandeis University)


Beyond the Alvars and Acharyas: Rethinking Shrivaishnava Studies

Description: ​​In the past fifty years, an impressive amount of scholarly attention has been given to the literature of the Shrivaishnava religious community in South India. There have been multiple translations of the Tamil compositions in praise of Vishnu by the twelve bhakti or “devotional” poets known as the Alvars. Additionally, there have been various studies on the Sanskrit and Manipravala compositions and commentaries of certain Shrivaishnavas acharyas (preceptors). The attention thus far, however, has mostly focused on already-known figures and well-studied texts. Two of our major impulses behind this symposium are to shine a light on Shrivaishnava materials that have largely been ignored by scholars and to bring different perspectives into discussion. For example, almost all of the work on Tamil Shrivaishnava literature has focused on the Alvars and overlooked later post “bhakti period” Shrivaishnava poets who wrote in Tamil, such as Aritacar, Manavalamamunikal, and Villiputturar. We also want to highlight Sanskrit and Manipravala works of Shrivaishnava literature that have been understudied, including hagiographies and works of ornate kavya poetry. Finally, we are deeply interested in Shrivaishnava texts in Telugu (a language that is infrequently associated with this religious tradition) by poets like Krishnadevaraya and Vengamamba. This symposium will serve as an opportunity to think about the Shrivaishnava tradition in myriad and innovative ways. We have gathered a group of nine junior scholars and graduate students to present papers that rethink and complicate the structure of the field of Shrivaishnava studies. Three highly respected scholars of Shrivaishnava literature have graciously agreed to be the respondents for these papers. It is our hope that this symposium will be the first of many future collaborations that celebrate the multiplicity and diversity of the Shrivaishnava tradition and Shrivaishnava studies.

Organizers: Sohini Pillai (Kalamazoo College) & Manasicha Akepiyapornchai (University of Texas at Austin)


Political Contestations in Contemporary India

Description: This panel explores the ways the ruling party seeks to gain the support of Dalits, Muslims, women, and LGBTQ communities. What strategies of incorporation and exclusion do they pursue? And how have subaltern groups engaged in resistance and expressed support for secularism, citizenship and democracy? How is dissidence expressed within and outside electoral venues, through film, poetry, songs, and public protest? The symposium will include scholars from a variety of disciplinary perspective to provide an interdisciplinary understanding of the dialectics of Hindu nationalist domination and resistance.

Organizer: Krupa Shandilya (Amherst College) & Amrita Basu (Amherst College)

Dance and South Asia

Description: A transnational scholars’ collective in the field of South Asian dance are co-organizing the first ACSA Symposium on Dance and South Asia. The primary aim of this symposium is to showcase new directions in scholarship on dance and South Asia and decenter dominant discourses and voices. Shifting focus away from hegemonic narratives about neo-classical Indian dance, this symposium features scholars and artists who work on a range of dance practices and performance traditions from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the diaspora. The roundtables of this symposium feature 5-7 minute provocations rather than formal papers that cover four themes: 1) De-centering “Dance”; 2) Dancing Diasporas, Embodying (Trans)nationalisms; 3) Pleasure, Desire, and Dance; and 4) Dance, Race, and Ethnicity. The first roundtable, which features artists based in India, questions the very formation of the field of Indian dance studies and questions what gets counted as “dance.” The second roundtable examines the circulation of dance and performance in South Asia and its Caribbean, Southeast Asian, and European diasporas. The third roundtable centers pleasure, desire, and sexuality in dance practices from India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. The final roundtable bridges the gap between scholarship on race and dance by examining discursive formations of race in relation to dance in Northeast India, jazz and blackface minstrelsy, contemporary fusion, rituals, and sexuality and visual cultures in the South Asian diaspora. All four roundtables contend with questions of caste in keeping with the symposium’s intentions to dismantle hegemonic discourses in South Asian dance. The presenters are from a range of academic ranks (graduate students, assistant professors, associate professors, and full professors) and also artists based in South Asia, UK, or North America. The twenty presenters focus on a range of geographies on dance in South Asia including: Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and the Indo-Caribbean context.

Organizers: Harshita Mruthinti Kamath (Emory University), Anusha Kedhar (University of California, Riverside), Kareem Khubchandani (Tufts University), Royona Mitra (Brunel University), Brahma Prakash (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Rumya Putcha (University of Georgia), & Sonja Thomas (Colby College)


Delight, Levity, and Play in Urdu

Description: Notions of lut̤f (delight) are crucial among Urdu-language writers, reciters, performers, and artists for purposes of documentation, entertainment, and circulation. Among literary actors, texts, and even specific words, lut̤f as both a narrative strategy and affective register engages Urdu-language’s pasts and shapes its contemporary visions. The 2023 Urdu Symposium seeks to bridge previous formats (“How not to write a history of Urdu literature” and keywords approaches) to examine how a broadly defined notion of lut̤f informs Urdu literature and literary practices. By lut̤f (delight), we refer to the many styles, genres, and registers within Urdu writings that engage the following concepts: lat̤īfe (pleasantries), ḥikāyāt (stories), nuqūl (anecdotes), hādiṡāt (novel occurrences), chuṭkule (jokes), tamāshe (spectacles), and ʿajāʾib (oddities). Such categories within South Asian-language settings require us to ask how ambiguous notions of delight connect and/or differentiate times, places, companions, texts, genres, media, and identities. We engage a broad array of scholars focused on performance, games, discourse analysis, theatre, humor, multimedia, and visual sources. At the 2023 Urdu Symposium, twelve contributors will be invited to give brief, 10- or 15-minute presentations focusing on translations, commentaries, research, pedagogy, and followed by substantial discussions of theory, methods, and sources. As in the past, the Annual Urdu Symposium anticipates a well-attended and fruitful discussion among scholars from a varying array of disciplines, backgrounds, and career stages.

Organizer: Nathan Tabor (Western Michigan University)


Lineage and Caste through the eyes of the Gendered Householder

Description: This symposium wishes to probe the making and unmaking of caste in the longue duree in the subcontinent by centering the formation and maintenance of different types of households at the center of contests over claims of belonging and exclusion, of respectability and disprivilege. For this reason, we seek to bring together a wide range of scholars whose work spans different chronologies, regions, and religious boundaries so that they can help us examine how institutional structures helped to solidify or dissolve inherited statuses. Drawing on the growing scholarly evidence of the persistence of caste status across diverse religious communities into the modern period, we wish to trace the ways in which legal, imperial, and regional understandings of lineage and household inscribed caste into practices of everyday life not commonly examined by scholarship. Using a wide array of primary sources from legal works, instructional books, regional courts, political decrees, classical and later medieval story literature, as well as vernacular poetry, panelists will trace how notions of lineage and caste could mutually shape each other, and in turn be shaped by new institutions and practices. We wish to examine claims to material resources, changing notions and practices of kinship, friendships and affiliation as well as their intersection with social and geographical mobilities in the subcontinent.

Organizer: Purnima Dhavan (University of Washington, Seattle)


Love and Intimacy in South Asia

Description: Love is relational. It connects or divides individuals, families, publics, and nations. Love is also political, and the last several decades have exposed a particularly vexed politics of love in South Asia, especially––conspiratorial ideas of ‘love jihad,’ for instance, have mobilized inter-caste and interreligious violence at the same time that activists and human rights lawyers have made important gains for queer relationality (the Supreme Court of India’s 2018 decision against Section 377 being but one of several notable gains). It is precisely love’s potency and its position in the interstices of affect, intimacy, and power that makes it a timely and productive subject of study. This symposium brings together a multidisciplinary group of scholars to examine love and intimacy in South Asia. Our interest is not to put forward a monolithic conception of love, but rather to highlight how love is always defined and deployed differently according to specific local, political, and historical contexts. The varied landscape of love in South Asia demands interdisciplinarity. This symposium brings together scholars whose collective study spans several disciplines, archives, languages, regions, and time periods. By putting an interdisciplinary group of scholars in conversation, this symposium does at least three things: first, it provides a vital forum for sharing new research. Comprised of eight presenters and three respondents, the symposium will provide a crucial opportunity to workshop projects at their various stages. Second, our emphasis on interdisciplinarity is intended to highlight key methodological and theoretical questions that span (or are specific to) certain areal and disciplinary formations. And finally, by tending to the politics of love, the symposium brings critical focus and nuance to the subject precisely at a moment when both critique and nuance are being purged from public debate in South Asia and beyond.

Organizer: Jonathan Peterson (Stanford University)


Material as Method: New Histories of the Built Environment

Description: This symposium will bring into conversation scholars who approach the production of the built environment in South Asia through an interdisciplinary understanding of its materiality. Contemporary exhibitions and publications about postcolonial architecture in South Asia have drawn attention to the use of materials such as concrete and steel in postcolonial state-building. Indeed, whether as material things or wish-images, building materials mediated different political and economic approaches to development, postcolonial sovereignty, and the modernization of everyday life. By contrast, emerging scholarship centers environmental and social questions that scale differently than the temporal and spatial extents of the nation state and the relentless solutionism of corporate globalism. Contemporary research attends to how the visual aesthetics and meanings of materials are inextricably entangled in the unequal geographies of extraction, manufacturing, construction, maintenance, and wasting of resources. These entanglements enfold the complex histories and unequal geographies of colonialism and postcolonial world-making. How might an analysis of material worlds draw attention to enduring inequalities in the production of the built environment? How might it also show their contestation? Symposium panels will address these histories and their political and social entanglements. Paper topics may include, but are not limited to, themes such as labor conditions, ecological impacts, extractive industries, and experimental practices. Papers may attend to the relentless drive to produce new and modern architectural materials; the toxic environments created by material production; the new spatial geographies and institutional dynamics emerging from the regulation and management of industries; the pressure to produce an aesthetics of natural and sustainable materials; the managerial language around pollution and safety standards, among other topics.

Organizers: Ateya Khorakiwala (Columbia University) & Curt Gambetta (Cornell University)


New Directions in Bangladesh Studies

Description: Driven by powerful new economic vectors, including the globalization of migrant labor and the garments industry, counterintuitive development markers, a globally assertive diaspora, and a challenge to Indian hegemony within South Asian studies, Bangladesh Studies has moved in exciting new directions in the last decade in terms of research agendas and methodologies. The growing coherence of the field has been made possible by the growth of a university network in Bangladesh, increased collaborations between scholars and activists inside and outside Bangladesh, the growing prominence of the Journal of Bangladesh Studies, and the establishment of a Center for Bangladesh Studies at University of California, Berkeley. The speakers at this symposium, representing a range of disciplines and institutional ranks and affiliations, are engaged in scholarship about Bangladesh that pushes beyond the longstanding preoccupations with development and security and beyond the boundedness of present-day national borders and national history. These scholars are decolonizing and reanimating Bangladesh studies by defining the field of Bangladesh studies as expansively, generously, and inclusively as possible, by challenging the hierarchies in development studies, literary studies, gender studies, South Asian Studies, and Islamic studies that have long cast East Bengal, East Pakistan, and Bangladesh and those who live there on the periphery of these fields—and as recipients, not producers, of knowledge. Three of the four symposium sessions will highlight new interdisciplinary approaches to a wide range of topics: the occlusion of the peasant in postcolonial knowledge production, the challenges posed by the climate crisis for different groups, and relations of friendship and control within and across generations of women. The fourth session will be a larger discussion led by the authors of recent English-language monographs on Bangladesh and the editor of the Journal of Bangladesh Studies about academic publishing about Bangladesh both within Bangladesh and the United States.

Organizer: Elora Shehabuddin (University of California, Berkeley)


Printing Religion in South Asia

Description: Our symposium explores how printing technologies and printed objects transformed religious communities in South Asia. We approach “print” as an all-encompassing category of replication technologies—from xylography to movable type to digital modeling. Book objects are not only repositories of historical evidence but also sites that shaped public consciousness. Therefore, our project will focus on how practices and tools used in the production of book objects may be governed by or influence politics, ideologies, and cultures. In unraveling the nexus between the history of print and South Asian religions, this symposium seeks to address a variety of critical and intellectual concerns. First, it will interrogate the impact of material cultures associated with printing technologies on the religious views, practices and identities of South Asian peoples. Second, it will deliberate upon the critical idioms and analytical tools, which are effective in appraising the dynamic relationship between print cultures and religious communities in South Asia. Furthermore, we will examine how indigenous terms and ideas were excluded from critical vocabularies of the history of the book in modern times through neglect, erasure, or censorship. By historicizing book objects in colonial and capitalist contexts, our project seeks to expand the critical vocabularies used in the history of the book to be more incisive through being more inclusive. Finally, building on specific case studies about printing technologies, printmakers, and printed objects, the symposium will reflect upon the advantages and challenges of exploring South Asian religions from the vantage point of the history of print. We have invited primarily early-career scholars whose research papers promise to make critical interventions in the study of material cultures. This symposium is part of our long-term intellectual investment in an upcoming generation of scholars, with an eye to building a community around the history of the book in South Asia.

Organizers: Megan Robb (University of Pennsylvania) & Pranav Prakash (Christ Church, University of Oxford)


Queer Failures and Possibilities: Trans Movements in Contemporary South Asia

Description: For over a decade trans activism and trans production has accelerated in legal, political, cultural, and artistic realms across South Asia. While these movements have animated possibilities for trans justice, so too have they often perpetuated narrow modes of legitimacy, reproducing hierarchies around class, caste, language, religion, kinship, labor, sexuality, nation and global capital. Violence against khwaja sira-hijra-kothi-trans persons is rampant; surveillance and policing have ensued; legislative achievements have been tremulous at best; while politicians wage voting capital on the backs of trans and queer bodies. We draw on queer failure to consider the dimensions of loss, elision and disappointment in and around trans social, legal and political movements, as well as the utopian possibilities of failure as a mode of resistance, intervention, speculation, fabulation and world making (Halberstam 2011; Takemoto 2016)— moving trans in South Asia toward other futures. The symposium welcomes paper presentations, roundtables, screenings, and artistic and creative responses. Participants represent a wide variety of disciplines–history, anthropology, theater and performance studies, gender and sexuality studies, sociology, geography, and law. We will explore accelerations and disruptions to trans movements alongside feminist, anti-caste, labor and LGBT and other mobilizations, not only in the contemporary moment but also situate these movements in broader colonial and postcolonial histories, in and across the borders of South Asia. In our movements across disciplinary, temporal, and national(ist) borders, we explore the capacious possibilities of trans in South Asia.

Organizers: Claire Pamment (College of William & Mary) & Jeff Redding (University of Melbourne)


Quotidian Sacreds: Religion, History, and Performance in South Asia

Description:Recent studies of religion in modern South Asia have taken one of two approaches: either they have argued against the secularization thesis by pointing towards the continuing presence of religion (Bandyopadhyay and Sen, eds, Religion and Modernity in India, 2017) or they have traced the “reforms” within religious formations (Fuchs and Dalmia, eds, Religious Interactions in Modern India, 2019). Absent from these efforts is an attempt to link these two approaches by focussing on the political work of the sacred. Connecting both strands of the study of modern religion would emphasize thisworldly consequences of otherworldly conceptions in ways that put the ordinary and the metaphysical within the same experiential and historical frame. This full-day symposium will highlight the quotidian work of the sacred by examining the entanglements of the political and the spiritual (Marshall, Political Spiritualities, 2009). We will explore the historical contexts and political meanings of prayer, worship, and congregations in modern South Asia. In doing so, we will join the conversation with works such as C.S. Adcock’s The Limits of Tolerance (2014) and Milinda Banerjee’s The Mortal God (2019) to disentangle the historical braids of the worldly and the otherworldly beyond unwieldy categories of religion, secularism, and modernity. “Quotidian Sacreds: Religion, History, and Performance in South Asia” analyzes the work of faith and worship as discourse and performance, across cultural and historical contexts of colonial and postcolonial modernity. We are not primarily interested in posing the category of religion in opposition to modernity: we neither aim to reformulate or refute the secularization thesis in postcolonial contexts nor do we wish to trace transformations within genre conventions of discourses and practices of worship. Instead, we are seeking to understand the ordinary work of the metaphysical: to see what the act of prayer does to the congregations.

Organizers: Vivek V. Narayan (Ashoka University) & Neilesh Bose (University of Victoria)


South Asian Disability Futures

Description: Alongside the increasing presence of disability rights movements across South Asia, there has been a rise in early childhood screening programs in the service of eliminating or curing disability. For example, leprosy and polio have seemingly been eradicated and various states in India have called for their states to be “deafness free” by the year 2025 (which is soon coming up). In addition, South Asian governments, NGOs, and charitable bodies are funding cochlear implants, again focused on curing deafness and making deaf children almost, near-to, or perfectly normal. We choose to call our full day pre-conference symposium “South Asian Disability Futures” and in doing so, we draw upon the work of US-based feminist disability studies scholar Alison Kafer to insist that disability has a place in the futures in/of South Asia. It is therefore imperative that an interdisciplinary and multinational conversation happen around what South Asian disability theory could or should be. Much disability studies work has looked at the history of disability and how the history and present has been shaped by (post)coloniality, unequal political economic relations, and poverty. But what about the future? In this full day symposium, which includes scholars at different stages of career and working in different institutions and South Asian locations, we aim to interrogate so-called universal disability concepts such as inclusion, independence, mainstreaming, disability rights, and disability identity and pride, paying particular attention to the ways they’ve been adopted, adapted, refined, and circulating in South Asia. We also aim to attend to localized concepts and the ways that these have also been circulating. Finally, in conversation with broader concerns in South Asian Studies across the disciplines, we will consider disability as it intersects with kinship, care, religion, class, education, and politics, among other topics.

Organizer: Michele Friedner (University of Chicago)


Sri Lanka Beyond Area Studies: Insights from Literary Theory for the Broader Humanities

Description: For most of the twentieth century, North American scholarship on Sri Lanka has been confined to the field of Area Studies. Concurrently, scholarship emerging from Sri Lanka was inclined towards theories of the Nation. While moving beyond these frameworks is not a novelty to many disciplines and regions across Asia Studies, Sri Lankan literary scholarship is yet to see a collective shift beyond these dominant frames. The proposed symposium questions the restricting disciplinary structures of Area Studies and the Nation and asks how literary critical methodology functions as a critique of twentieth and twenty-first century North American and Sri Lankan disciplinary boundaries. The proposed symposium explores Sri Lanka’s “location” within academic disciplines in the humanities and the impact its various types of regionalization, globally and within Asian Studies, might shape the reception and significance of the scholarship on it. The presenters draw on a range of theoretical approaches from the environmental humanities, affect studies, and secularism studies to recast writers, texts, and motifs of the Nation which for long have been read within the confines of Area Studies. We begin our symposium by interrogating the significance of literary voices from Sri Lanka in an attempt to imagine the humanities as a global transnational sphere of knowledge production. How might specific writers, thinkers, cultural contexts, approached through literary critical frameworks, be situated within Sri Lanka and transnational scholarship? How might such scholarship position the uses of literary analysis within the broader frameworks of the humanities and social sciences? The symposium will be organized around six papers with a focus on Sri Lanka, covering mainly the twentieth century. The papers will be circulated in advance with registered participants. Each paper will be introduced by a discussant whose scholarship is currently shaping the trajectories of the disciplinary focus of the relevant paper.

Organizers: Samitha Senanayake (University of Wisconsin-Madison) & Crystal Baines (University of Massachusetts Amherst)


Tamil Religion? Contesting 'Tamilness' in Religious Domains

Description: Both among laypeople and in scholarly literature, it is not uncommon to qualify religious practices or identities as “Tamil”: “Tamil temple worship”, “Tamil ritual”, “Tamil Muslims”, “Tamil Catholicism”. Often, such qualifications are simple contractions identifying the language used by religious actors or texts. But to qualify something as “Tamil” carries the expectations that the entities thus described conform to notions of “Tamilness” that go well beyond the linguistic. “Tamil religion” thus becomes not simply “Tamil-speaking religion”, but a form of religion that is imbued with values, aesthetics, and identities considered “Tamil” by those who utilize the label. Sometimes, “Tamil religion” is accompanied by the demand that “religious” practices and identities be subordinated to an overarching “Tamilness”, as has often been the case in the context of the Dravidian Movement. In other cases, “Tamilness” is seen as fundamentally defined by particular “religious” practices or identities, for example “emotional bhakti” or Śaiva Siddhānta. And occasionally, even the simple linguistic qualification as “Tamil-speaking” may be doggedly resisted, as in the case of the Sri Lanka Moors. This symposium seeks to probe the unspoken assumptions and explicit politics that undergird the identification of “religion” as “Tamil” or its contestation. It explores the capacious ways in which practitioners and followers of different traditions in the Tamil region (broadly defined) understand “Tamil” to be more than just a linguistic or ethnic marker. It pays specific attention to the affective, embodied, and temporal dimensions of “Tamil religion,” also investigating what might be occluded by existing analytical frameworks. This symposium brings together scholars from different disciplines to critically examine religion in/and the Tamil region, and hopes to open up a conceptual and empirical space to reflect on the politics, conflicts, and negotiations inherent in qualifying “religion” as “Tamil”.

Organizers: Torsten Tschacher (University of Heidelberg) & Harini Kumar (Princeton University)


Thinking In and From Telugu: Understanding Connections, Querying Boundaries

Description: ‘Telugu’ as a linguistic, ethnic, literary and cultural category has both marked a contested terrain and served as openings for critical fields of enquiry. Over the last century, Telugu has been the staging ground for a range of struggles for statehood, self-respect, emancipation, revolution, and articulations of space (especially Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) in terms of language. Furthermore, Telugu also shares an interstitial and intermediate relation with broader politics in South Asia. In particular, it often eluded the nation-centric narratives, and worked as a historical site of political and cultural exchange with regions across the Deccan, the subcontinent, and even beyond through oceanic and other networks. It also played pioneering roles in translating and reinterpreting texts from various South Asian and global contexts. In this symposium, we bring together four multi-disciplinary panels to interrogate the contested and interstitial nature of Telugu, to arrive at newer frameworks for understanding South Asia. Through our symposium, we hope to generate a discourse with a requisite potential to query and deconstruct hegemonic boundaries and categories of language, nation, and religion. We bring together scholars from diverse positionalities and career stages, who are working with an eclectic range of Telugu materials—archival, ethnographic, literary, cinematic, and others—to facilitate a conversation across time periods and geographic scales. In doing so we seek to think with work happening at different nodes of knowledge production, ranging from feminist research centres (Anveshi) to ‘Dalit Studies’ (EFLU) to ‘Deccan studies’ (Khidki Collective, Maidaanam Project) to ‘Telugu Studies’ (UPenn, UChicago, Emory). Broadly, the symposium will be divided into four thematic panels that will engage with the regional specificities on caste and capital, religion, state-making, and translation. These subjects will each serve as thematic anchors to draw out connections that are present within and beyond them.

Organizer: Abhishek Bhattacharyya (University of Chicago)



Description: The 9th annual Regional Bhakti Scholars Network symposium, titled “Transgression,” seeks to uncover the latent principles that engender both the positive and negative analytics that the term deploys. First, the term transgression is often used with a positive valence in bhakti scholarship, wherein it includes a latent value judgment suggesting that transgressions of traditional Hindu caste and gender hierarchies in pursuit of greater equality are – and should be – viewed in a positive light. In the case in many scholarly works on bhakti, most particularly those focused on caste and gender, bhakti poets, gurus, temples, and traditions are often unreflexively celebrated for their transgressive contestations and refusals of “traditional” structures of Hindu hierarchy and exclusion. Second, in the negative valence, the term transgression tends to be used in relation to the behaviors of bhaktas that are deemed either non-Brahmanical (meat eating, alcohol drinking, caste violations, sexual practices, and so on) or criminal (murder, rape, fraud, tax evasion, immigration violations, prostitution, embezzlement, and so on). These transgressions are often marked by criminality and as such are also, by definition, socially and historically constructed and the result of political processes defined by those with social influence and juridical power. This symposium provides an arena in which to think critically about the term “transgression” and the broader lexicon in which it is embedded. It seeks to locate and interrogate latent exercises in cultural evaluation, and to question when such value judgments can be deployed with intention, awareness, care, and critical self-reflexivity. In hosting this pre-conference event, the co-coordinators aim to unearth the latent and historically-contingent ideologies that inform both the positive and negative valences of the notion of “transgression,” and in so doing reveal the ways that scholars unwittingly reassert Brahmanical dominance as idealized tradition and Anglo-European liberalism as the ethical norm.

Organizers: Jon Keune (Michigan State University) & Amanda Lucia (University of California, Riverside)


The Vaiṣṇava Sensorium: Experiencing the Divine in Eastern India

Description: This symposium brings together scholars from the fields of literature, philosophy, anthropology, ritual studies, and art history, to share and inspire research that focuses specifically on the Vaisnava sensorium in eastern India. Some scholars have already been working directly on the sensorium in the context of Gauṛīya Vaiṣṇavism, while the research of many others engages the subject indirectly. This symposium seeks to bring these scholars into conversation with each other around the central focus of the Vaiṣṇava sensorium as it is understood in Gauṛīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy, poetry, drama, aesthetics, and practices of ritual and interiority. In this endeavor, we intend to bring together research on eastern India—erstwhile Mithila, Assam, greater Bengal, and Orissa—in the early modern, colonial, and modern (and contemporary) periods. The aim is to look at both the roots of the Vaiṣṇava sensorium as it was understood in the Gauṛīya Vaiṣṇava canon but also to consider the ripple effects of this doctrine in the ways in which groups inspired by ideas seeded by the Gauṛīyas moved their understandings in new directions. Ultimately, the aim is to articulate a new poetics of perception and experience of the divine, among the Gauṛīyas and beyond. Questions we would like to consider, which are simply indicative, include: What does Vaiṣṇava doctrine say about the senses and the role they play in the phenomenology of experience, in the production of bhāva and mahābhāva, and the concomitant generation of psycho-physiological effects? How do yogic bodily regimens and/or tantric practices of interiority impact Vaiṣṇava understandings and affects? What are the precise experiences of meditation and bodily rituals among different kinds of Vaiṣṇavas? How do reading practices of canonical texts constitute Vaiṣṇava affective subjectivities? What is the role of ritual performance, temple architecture, and pilgrimage in activating the senses?

Organizer: Ayesha Irani (University of Massachusetts Boston)


Symposium Submission Guidelines

To propose a Symposium (formerly known as ‘PreConference’), you must submit:

  • A 200-300 word abstract
  • A preliminary list of speakers*
  • A preliminary schedule**
  • Justification of why the content of your proposed Symposium warrants more time than a panel or double-panel would allow

*We understand that your list of preliminary speakers and your proposed schedule may change following acceptance. Please do your best to give us a sense of who will be speaking (i.e. how many speakers, of which professional backgrounds, from which geographic regions, etc.) and what the schedule might look like when you submit your proposal (i.e. how much time is dedicated to presentations, audience discussion, breakout discussion, etc.).

**Your Symposium schedule must work around our all-conference breaks (7:30-8:30am, 10:15-10:30am, 3:30-3:45pm) and lunch (12:15-1:45pm).

Please note that you may request a 1/2 day or full day Symposium.

A full day Symposium runs from 8:30am to 5:30pm
A half day Symposium runs from 8:30am to 12:15pm or from 1:45 to 5:30pm

If you submit a Symposium and your submission is not accepted, you still have time to submit a Panel, Round Table, or Single Paper given the April 5 deadline for these submission types. All Symposium speakers must register for the conference by June 30. Registration refunds are offered through September 15 should your proposals not be accepted.

The Annual Conference on South Asia’s Symposia (formerly known as PreConference) offers half and full-day time slots during which presenters and participants can actively discuss more complex topics that would not be suitable to our shorter 105-minute panel format.

Half Day Symposia run from either 8:30am – 12:15pm or 1:45 – 5:30pm.
Full Day Symposia run from 8:30am – 5:30pm.

Your Symposium schedule must work with our all-conference breaks (7:30-8:30am, 10:15-10:30am, 3:30-3:45pm) and lunch (12:15-1:45pm).

Please note that your Symposium participants must register and submit payment upon your Symposium being accepted.

Please see our Conference Deadlines page for detailed information on important cutoff dates.

Submit Your Proposal Here!