University of Wisconsin–Madison


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.

  • Across the Himalayas

    Half Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 12:15 pm
    Conference Room 4

    Organizer: TBD

    Abstract: While national labels continue to be common in the language of funding opportunities and job offerings, environmental and social processes such as glacial melt and human mobility routinely transcend international, political limits. This symposium brings together scholars whose research in the Himalayas transcends boundaries. Although recent scholarship (e.g. special issues on South Asia’s borders in Political Geography 2013 and Journal of South Asia 2017) and research units (e.g. Asian Borderlands Research Network and ERC Highland Asia grant) both advance and demonstrate the need for wider transborder research, scholars face many institutional, bureaucratic, and funding challenges for conducting fieldwork and analysis across Himalayan spaces. In order to better organize and galvanize regional research agendas, this symposium will create a productive space for researchers at multiple career levels to share experiences working with and across various geographies, languages, and governmental regulations. In addition to offering participants the opportunity to showcase their research, the symposium has invited experts from institutions at multiple Himalayan universities, research centers, and government offices to provide practical information on available resources and strategies for transborder researchers. Senior scholars will also offer information about their own struggles and successes in working across borders in diverse academic disciplines and lead break-out focus groups with thematic foci in both regional and disciplinary contexts. Over the course of the symposium, the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies will also seek to actively expand the Association’s support for trans-Himalayan researchers and work towards more effective responses to the challenges voiced by scholars working across the region. We anticipate that a key outcome of the event will be the development of new services for ANHS members in Nepal as well as India, Bhutan, Pakistan, and Tibet/China.

  • Aesthetics, Power, and Political Economy in Modern South Asia

    Half Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 12:15 pm
    Conference Room 5

    Organizer: Namita Dharia ( & Liza Oliver (

    Abstract: From the sensoriums of streets to the production of fine arts to the tracing of ephemera that circulated spaces, aesthetic production in South Asia has historically formed and framed the modes through which the subcontinent is imagined and experienced. Beginning in the colonial legacies of Indian and English aesthetic production and tracing these legacies into the present, this symposium aims to engage with the role aesthetics play in constructions of political and political economic power in South Asia. We seek to interrogate artistic practices through their role in transnational relations, industrial and urban development, governmentality, and political subject formation. As such, we will address a diverse range of aesthetic categories, from photography, reproductive prints and film to textiles, architecture, mapping, and urban space in the shaping of modern South Asia’s political economy. The one day symposium aims to closely interrogate, through interdisciplinary engagements in architecture, art history, and anthropology (among others), the powerful role aesthetics has played and continues to play in the subcontinent. Together we hope to debate the historical transformations and genealogies of aesthetics in India, think through their socio-cultural importance, and envision the role they might play in contemporary and future South Asian societies.

  • Art For Our Sake: The Aesthetics of Decolonization in Postcolonial South Asia

    Half Day Symposium, 1:45 pm – 5:30 pm
    Conference Room 5

    Organizer: Felix Fuchs (

    Abstract: For Amilcar Cabral, national liberation and anti-colonial praxis remain hollow “unless they can be translated into a real improvement of living conditions.” Despite the emergence of supposedly postcolonial societies, the relentless drive of neoliberal capital coopts modes of domination left behind by colonialism, continuously reshaping these to suit the present. Yet, these forces are confronted by people organized along the lines of religion, region, language, class, caste, gender, race, and—most often—at the intersections of these identities. This symposium will examine the constitution of the aesthetic politics of such resistant bodies and groups. We will explore how struggles in the field of cultural production do not simply mirror, but rather actively shape civil society. Given the multiplicity of resistance, the range of our questions is similarly diverse: how are Dalit and Muslim activists continuing their fight for representation and acceptance in an increasingly upper-caste, Hindutva-izing society? How do criminal tribes resist their stigmatization through theatrical performance? How are South Asian women and non-binary activists responding to the persistence of sexist, classist, and caste-ist forms of domination, and what is the role of student activism and global socio-cultural movements such as #MeToo in this struggle? How are farmers and indigenous peoples dealing with neoliberal expropriation? In what ways are the urban poor resisting the massive gentrification and urbanization projects in cities like Mumbai? Finally: how are resistant communities, situated antagonistically in relation to the neocolonial state, challenging its ideological and repressive apparatuses? Overall, this panel addresses questions that challenge normative interpretations of postcolonial South Asia. We will focus on how diverse struggles are waged, tracing the historical development of current forms of resistance to explore the continuing importance of culture in these unfinished contestations for liberation.

  • After the Śaiva Age: Transformation and Continuity in the Regional Saivisms of South India

    Half Day Symposium, 1:45 pm – 5:30 pm
    Conference Room 4

    Organizer: Elaine Fisher (

    Abstract: As Alexis Sanderson has argued in his magnum opus, “The Śaiva Age,” between the sixth and thirteenth centuries, Śaivism became the site for a host of developments that fundamentally transformed the religious landscape of the Indian subcontinent. Over the past two decades, Sanderson and his students have demonstrated on philological grounds that the vocabulary of the Śaiva Mantramārga, or Śaiva Tantrism, provided a model through which doctrinal and ritual innovation crossed religious boundaries. Kindred currents of Buddhism, Jainism, and Vaiṣṇavism came to share a common ritual syntax, and strategic modes of engaging with royal polities. Where this narrative leaves off, however—and what follows in its wake—inspires as many questions as answers. By reframing both the ruptures and continuities heralded by the demise of the Śaiva Age, this symposium draws together the latest currents of research in south Indian Śaivism. In our classical narrative of Indian religions, for instance, the thirteenth century—the end of the Śaiva age—dovetails neatly with the transregional expansion of the bhakti movement, a form of religiosity often framed in opposition to the traditional values of Sanskrit textuality. As genre boundaries are rendered increasingly permeable with the spread of vernacularization, the many Śaivisms of south India, as entextualized in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam, inherit formative features of the earlier canon while speaking in a new idiom to local audiences. Śaiva institutions, such as the temple complex and monastery, established a framework for the efflorescence of new communities and publics, which engaged strategically with shifting social fabric of south India across regions. In drawing attention to key examples of rupture and continuity in the post-Śaiva age, each of the papers in this Symposium works in concert to rethink our inherited narratives about the history of religions in south India.

  • AIIS Transforming Your Dissertation Into A Book Workshop

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Capitol Ballroom B

    Organizer: Susan Wadley (

    Abstract: Sponsored by the several organizations devoted to the study of South Asia, this workshop aims to help a select number of recent PhDs re-vision their doctoral dissertations as books, with discussion amongst themselves and with senior mentors. Applications to participate are due by July 30, 2018, emailed to Susan S. Wadley, The application email should contain a current cv; the dissertation abstract, its table of contents, and either the introduction or the first content chapter (whichever best explains the dissertation focus and content) plus a book prospectus. These should all be in ONE PDF file. The workshop will begin at 7 pm Wednesday evening, Oct. 10 , and all participants are expected to be present at this time. Thursday’s sessions (in groups of about 10 juniors scholars and three senior mentors) run from 8 to approximately 5:30. We will conclude with dinner at Maharani Restaurant on Thursday evening.

  • Contemporary Bhakti Encounters: Devotionalism in Ethnographic and Ethical Perspective

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Capitol Ballroom A

    Organizer: Hanna Kim (

    Abstract: For the 5th annual symposium of the Regional Bhakti Scholars Network (RSBN), we propose to focus on ethnographic approaches to the study of bhakti. The aim is to balance the textual and broadly historical emphases of previous RSBN symposia. We anticipate that ethnographic perspectives will suggest approaches and raise questions for those who work on textual and archeological materials pertaining to bhakti. We also expect to address ethical issues arising from fieldwork with living communities. This symposium encourages presenters to share new or ongoing fieldwork that contributes to our understanding of living bhakti and its multiple expressions in the contemporary world of South Asia. This includes both communities grounded on medieval bhakti traditions and new forms of devotional expression and community arising in colonial and post-colonial South Asia. How do today’s communities offer strategies for living in the fast-changing nations of southern Asia? In what ways does participation in a bhakti community offer ways of reframing citizenship and the relationship of individual and society? How do modern phenomena of mobility and national (and international) media affect questions of regionality and vernacularism in contemporary bhakti? In what ways are devotional performative traditions changing in contemporary settings? Are there changes in aesthetic understandings of bhakti arts? The symposium theme also acknowledges the challenges that scholars working with contemporary bhakti communities encounter with respect to questions of authority, power, and ethics. We encourage discussion on a range of ethical issues and real-time concerns that affect research with people whose practices and ideals have repercussions on bhakti research. What ethical concerns arise when the field researcher establishes trust and is given access to data whose publication could bring harm to the informant or community?

  • Cross Border Entaglements in Eastern South Asia

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30am – 3 pm
    Wisconsin Ballroom

    Organizer: Mathbor Golam (

    Abstract: Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar prompts a massive displacement of 700,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh, radically re-configuring demography, ecology, and politics along the border. China’s One-Belt-One-Road program prompts massive new infrastructure projects linking South Western China and Southeast Asia to Bangladesh and to India through the sensitive Northeast. The imperatives of preparing for climate change reconfigure the Sundarbans region, highlighting the disastrous consequences of imagining the forest as neatly divided by a border. Realities and perceptions of migration from Bangladesh into Assam lead to waves of violence and a resurgence of ethno-nationalist politics. Calls for self-governance in Darjeeling and a redrawing of the internal boundaries of West Bengal prompt state blockades and media blackouts. As these examples suggest, Eastern South Asia’s borders—internal and external—are in a moment of tremendous flux. How do these separate issues articulate with one another? What kind of new connections, flows, and politics emerge through and around them? How do these headline grabbing issues mask other, more everyday strategies of border navigation? In what ways do these shifts interact with longstanding cultural, religious, and ethnic practices and linkages across borders? And what are the longer histories that animate contemporary challenges to these comparatively recent border configurations? The symposium seeks to bring together scholars working across social science, humanities, and policy arenas to raise new questions about the current moment and to link it to longer trajectories and processes of making and unmaking borders in Eastern South Asia. By bringing together scholars working in India’s Northeast, Bangladesh, and West Bengal, we hope to contextualize these contemporary crises as part of a broader regional transformation. In doing so, we seek to connect past to present in a critical region where the future hangs in the balance.

  • Himalayan Policy Research Conference

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Madison College Room D240-1

    Organizer: Alok Bohara (

    Abstract: The Nepal Study Center (NSC) at the University of New Mexico, its members and affiliated scholars request letting us organize the Annual Himalayan Policy Research Conference, the 13th in our series at the symposium of the University of Wisconsin’s 47th Annual Conference on South Asia (October 11-14, 2018). We have had grand successes over the years in providing this platform to attract scholars from all over the world. The purpose of the event continues to be to promote scholarly interactions among the scholars with policy research interest on the Himalayan region and the countries in South Asia. We have had highly successful conferences in the past –2006 through 2017 — at your venue where scholars came to participate from several countries such as the US, Canada, Europe, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Japan. We even did a live internet broadcast of the event in 2010.

  • Impersonation in South Asia

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Private Dining Room

    Organizer: Pam Lothspeich (

    Abstract: This symposium will bring together seventeen scholars from a variety of ranks, disciplines and countries doing groundbreaking work on the subject of impersonation/guising/embodiment in modern and early modern South Asia. The expected outcome of the symposium is an edited volume on Impersonation in South Asia, which will be the first scholarly source to examine impersonation both in contemporary performative and quotidian contexts across South Asia. We understand impersonation as the temporary assumption of an identity or guise of a group that is not one’s own in social and aesthetic performative contexts, including the same as expressed in literature. Our broad reading of this term allows us to investigate ways in which people have sought to affectively perform/assume different identities across a representative selection of media and cultural forms in South Asia. Subjects explored range from the impersonation of real people (cultural icons) and fantasy beings (comic book characters) to more diffuse and overdetermined forms of impersonation entangled with issues of race, gender, social station, the supernatural and the divine. An important contribution of this symposium is that it will reflect on the material conditions under which these identities are socially constructed, and interrogate sites of hegemonic control relating to gender, sexuality, white race capital, and the North-South divide, taking into account entrenched social inequities, globalization, neoliberalism, and postcolonialism. Our collective work will expand on the term ‘impersonation’ by positing vernacular categories and examples from South Asia, ones that encapsulate and expand upon our understanding of guising which has so far been mostly situated in Euro-American contexts. This symposium will also work to break down the presumed innate dichotomy between social performance of the everyday and aesthetic performance on stage. Our project requires sustained collaboration and discussion especially on the theoretical framework for the volume, thus a full-day symposium is warranted.

  • Junior Scholar's Conference - AIPS

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Parlor Room 638

    Organizer: Laura Hammond (

    Abstract: The American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS) is proposing a Junior Scholars’ Conference intended to mentor junior scholars working on Pakistan. This one-day conference will showcase the research being done by junior scholars in the field of Pakistan Studies. AIPS will hold an open call for applications, which is widely advertised throughout the AIPS member institutions (36 institutions) and beyond. We encourage abstracts from disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, political science, history, literature, religious studies, art history, music, women studies, film and communications studies, etc. AIPS has identified senior scholars who will read the papers, provide feedback, mentorship, and focused discussion. This event will utilize a full day and is therefore larger than a traditional conference panel. This Junior Scholars’ conference will be central in enabling emerging scholars to network with others in their field and be exposed to senior scholars who can act as additional advisors/mentors. Other past conferences held at the Annual Conference have been instrumental in creating a nation-wide dialogue between junior and senior scholars. There have been significant outcomes of the past conferences, including multiple projects started, mentorships forged, articles written, and dissertations revised, edited and completed that have sprung from this intensive one-day conference. Program will be similar to 2016 program (attached). Discussants include: 1) Farhat Haq, Professor, Political Science, Monmouth College 2) Matthew Cook, Professor, Postcolonial & South Asian Studies, North Carolina Central University 3) Frank Korom, Professor, Religion and Anthropology, BU 4) Yasmin Saikia, Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies, Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, Arizona State University 5) Iftikhar Dadi, Associate Professor, History of Art & Visual Studies, Cornell 6) Shahnaz Rouse, Professor, Sociology, Sarah Lawrence College 7) Cabeiri Robinson, Associate Professor, International Studies, Comparative Religions, and South Asian Studies, UW-Seattle 8) Iqbal Sevea Singh, Associate Professor, History, UNC

  • Land Questions - Agrarian and Material South Asia

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Madison College Room D240-2

    Organizer: Matthew Shutzer ( & Meghna Chaudhuri (

    Abstract: The place of the agrarian has been a persistent question for the social sciences going back to the late-nineteenth century. The emergence of modern social scientific disciplines itself was concurrent with intensified commodification and the locking into place of a new global structural hierarchy. The ‘agrarian question’ was a real problem of economic policy as it was one at the heart of the provenance, chronology and possibilities of capitalism as objects of enquiry through to the mid-twentieth century. Scholars of South Asia have paid particular attention to the agrarian for most of the twentieth century. As scholarly interest came to focus on urban spaces, global networks and elite and subaltern cultural production, the agrarian question receded to the background in an era when metropolitan globalization appeared to be the inescapable reality. Even as the agrarian receded as the object of study, it continued to form the bedrock of enquiries amongst students of South Asia through, for example, a renewed focus on law in its normative aspects, as well as a more fluid socio-economic history of legal forms and the politics of Dalit and lower-caste labor. How do we make sense of the patterns of accumulation and forms of distributional conflict that characterize South Asia’s political economy in the present? In what ways do debates over spatial transformation, environmental degradation, and caste and gender hierarchies challenge our understanding of the current intersections between economic inequality, democratic crisis, and an emergent politics surrounding climate change? This interdisciplinary panel brings together emerging and senior researchers to reflect upon the ways in which these issues have returned scholars to the sources that used to form the subject of an older tradition of agrarian history in an attempt to bring questions of materiality and economy to bear on the urgent political changes of our time.

  • New Directions in South Asian 'Ulama' Studies

    Half Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 12:15 pm
    Conference Room 1

    Organizer: SherAli Tareen

    Abstract: Important and far-reaching debates on current issues in Islamic law are taking place in Muslim traditionalist circles in South Asia. In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, traditionally educated Muslim scholars (known as the ‘ulama’) of varying ideological stripes are participating in public debates on highly charged and divisive matters. For instances, issues such as blasphemy, women’s rights, defining rape, the normative status of modern technology in the shari‘a etc. are vigorously argued by ‘ulama’ in South Asia. These are significant internal debates that do not make it to morning headlines of newspapers. However, grasping the internal logics and aspirations of such debates is critical to developing a richer and more nuanced narrative of the Islamic legal tradition in South Asia. This symposium attempts this task. It explores the competing ways in which South Asian ‘ulama’ put the canonical tradition of Islamic law to work in modern contexts. The central question this symposium addresses is this: how do Muslim religious thinkers in modern South Asia deal with the historical legacy of norms and values in encounters with new conditions? The short answer is: eagerly, unevenly, and in a messy manner. For some, the virtues, predispositions, and models of the good as elaborated in their instruction manuals and as articulated by the ancient authorities remain the ideal. For others, the entire system of norms and virtues has to be rethought and overhauled. And then, there is a spectrum of scholars who find themselves in between these two polarities. The objective of this symposium is to illumine the varieties of interpretive norms, temperaments, and aesthetics that populate the Muslim legal tradition in South Asia. It does so by presenting specific illustrations of the multiple and often conflicting ways in which the limits of law and tradition are contested by contemporary South Asian ‘ulama.’

  • Pakistani Cinema: New Theoretical and Methodological Ground

    Half Day Symposium, 1:45 pm – 5:30 pm
    Conference Room 2

    Organizer: Gwendolyn Kirk (

    Abstract: This symposium will bring together scholars from the US, the UK, and Pakistan to discuss recent developments and innovations relating to the study of Pakistani cinema. Although long overshadowed by the study of Hindi popular cinema, or Bollywood, the study of South Asian cinema has become increasingly broad in recent years. As little as ten years ago scholarly work on the films and filmmakers of Pakistan simply did not exist; now a small but growing group of scholars are dedicated to its study. Pakistani cinema is distinct from other South Asian cinemas, and itself comprises multiple languages and genres. It also has historically had very different relationships with the Pakistani nation-state and with religious nationalism than is found in the context of India. Although cinema industries in the two nations share commonalities of history and style, they have developed into strikingly different entities. A focus on Pakistani cinema thus decentralizes Hindi cinema, and also allows for a greater focus on subnational or regional cinemas. Accordingly, scholars working on Pakistani film are also making theoretical and methodological interventions, paying attention not only to the filmic text, but also to production, circulation, and reception. These scholars come from different disciplines, such as art history, comparative literature, and linguistic anthropology, and as such bring different theoretical and methodological traditions to the table. This symposium will include both the standard format of individual presentations followed by Q&A, and also a roundtable discussion on the present state and future directions of Pakistan cinema studies. Our goal is to foster an interactive and ongoing dialogue as this is a small, but exciting, field. Having a symposium rather than a panel will allow us the freedom not only to share scholarship but to collectively explore issues that speak to all of our research in much greater depth.

  • Performance Studies In And From South Asia: An Interdisciplinary Symposium

    Half Day Symposium, 1:45 pm – 5:30 pm
    Conference Room 3


    The aim of this symposium is to facilitate a dialogue between the fields of South Asian Studies and Performance Studies, by bringing together scholars and artists who work at the intersection of these two disciplines. In so doing, it addresses two major lacunae: The under-representation of performance as a tool and an object of analysis in the study of South Asia; and the dominant Euro-American-centrism of the discourse of Performance Studies. Performance Studies’ origins as a field can be found in works such as Richard Schechner’s and Victor Turner’s, which combined anthropology and performance in order to examine cultural ritual in India. This symposium will give a new generation of scholars the chance to build on and update the relationship between South Asia and Performance Studies, insisting on a decolonial lens that honors the work emerging from South Asia as critical to investigating what Performance Studies has to offer as a relatively new discipline.

    This year, we will focus on how performative analysis might generate new understandings of subjects as diverse as the neoliberal Indian city or the staging of Sanskrit epics. The performance pre-conference in 2017 hosted presentations on a range of topics, including diasporic audiobook performance, meditative practices in Sri Lanka, clubs in colonial Calcutta, and contemporary Tamil Dance championships. We look forward to continuing the discussions that started there, as well as developing the papers we receive this year for an edited volume, the first of its kind to use a Performance Studies methodology, as opposed to a theatre or dance-oriented approach, to explore the rich cultures of South Asia.

    We invite submissions of abstracts for 10-minute papers that interrogate why performance matters and that demonstrate what performance can bring to the table in the study of South Asia.

    Please email your 250-word abstracts to by June 1, 2018.

    Organizer: Sharvary Sastry (

    Abstract: The aim of this symposium is to facilitate a dialogue between the fields of South Asian Studies and Performance Studies, by bringing together scholars and artists who work at the intersection of these two disciplines. In so doing, it addresses two major lacunae: The under-representation of performance as a tool and an object of analysis in the study of South Asia; and the dominant Euro-American-centrism of the discourse of Performance Studies. Performance Studies’ origins as a field can be found in works such as Richard Schechner’s and Victor Turner’s, which combined anthropology and performance in order to examine cultural ritual in India. This symposium will give a new generation of scholars the chance to build on and update the relationship between South Asia and Performance Studies, insisting on a decolonial lens that honors the work emerging from South Asia as critical to investigating what Performance Studies has to offer as a relatively new discipline. This year, we will focus on how performative analysis might generate new understandings of subjects as diverse as the neoliberal Indian city or the staging of Sanskrit epics. The performance pre-conference in 2017 hosted presentations on a range of topics, including diasporic audiobook performance, meditative practices in Sri Lanka, clubs in colonial Calcutta, and contemporary Tamil Dance championships. We look forward to continuing the discussions that started there, as well as developing the papers we receive this year for an edited volume, the first of its kind to use a Performance Studies methodology, as opposed to a theatre or dance-oriented approach, to explore the rich cultures of South Asia. Our speakers will include both established and emerging scholars and artists of South Asian theatre, dance, and ritual. We aim to include voices who blur disciplinary boundaries by using performance as a lens to study the world.

  • Practices of Border Making in South Asia: From Durand to Doklam

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    University C/D

    Organizer: Swati Chawla (

    Abstract: This past summer, a months-long standoff between India and China once again brought to the world stage the disputed borders between the world’s two most populous countries. While political commentators were quick to point to nationalist sabre-rattling as a prime factor, a growing number of scholars have begun to explore the deeper histories of South Asia’s numerous disputed borders; Willem van Schendel’s categorization of the legacies of Radcliffean, McMahonian, and Kashmirian “border issues” being among the more recent (2013). At the heart of these analyses lies the emergence of new conceptions of sovereignty, territoriality, and legitimacy in the modern world, that came to be positioned against older ways of organizing national life. Examining this complex and temporally uneven process in turn raises a series of questions that this symposium seeks to answer: How do changes and continuities in conceptions of sovereignties (both multi-layered and absolute) reflect the transition to postcolonial nation-states? To what extent are the cartographic anxieties of today’s nation-states inheritances of the ideologies and technologies of governance deployed by erstwhile colonial states? And how can historians divided by area studies boundaries, such as East, Central, and South Asia, collectively imagine innovative ways of understanding problems that traverse national borders? Finally, how can we move beyond statist frameworks to explore how the peoples of Asia have creatively accommodated cultural, political, religious, and environmental difference?

  • Queer Symposium: Un/Desirable Encounters at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Caste

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    University A/B

    Organizer: Jeff Roy (

    Abstract: Recent scholarship on South Asia has called for renewed attention to the intersections of queerness, race, class and caste under the contexts of globalization, neoliberalism, and the fraying of cultural and ideological borders (Gopinath 2005, Prasad 2017). In this symposium, we would like to draw attention to the journeys of queer, trans, hijra and gender nonconforming subjects and scholars working in and around South Asia in order to highlight the ways in which race, class, and caste frame relationships, studies and engagements in the field. We ask: How do queer, trans, hijra, and gender nonconforming people engage the narrative, performative, and embodied aspects of race, class, and caste while navigating around and through the inevitable presence of the Western academy? How do race, class, and caste frame our desires for, experiences of, and relationships with neoliberal spectres that infiltrate the intimate spaces of fieldwork? What strategies do queer, trans, hijra and gender nonconforming people employ to adapt to, adopt, subvert, or resist the hierarchies of authority produced by race, class, caste, religion, nationality, and institutional access? And in particular, how do queer subjects, Dalit activists, and black South Asians subvert the homogenizing implication of “people of color” taxonomy by visioning intersectional, racialized, and decolonial coalitions across the global color line? In addressing the connections that bind our respective fields of academic and artistic practice ­­ and our ability to access modes of inquiry based on our varying privilege(s) as ethnographers, artists, or teachers ­­ we further consider, self-­reflexively, how these privileges are exercised through epistemic and institutional power.

  • Rethinking Folk Culture in South Asia

    Half Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 12:15 pm
    Conference Room 3

    Organizer: Aniket De (

    Abstract: South Asia is a vast repertoire of stories, objects and performances. Scholars and storytellers, from Mary Frere (1868) to the unparalleled A.K. Ramanujan (1986), have long understood the crucial role of popular cultures in shaping complex historical experiences in the subcontinent. Yet the academic study of South Asian folk culture has somewhat declined since its Golden Age in the late 20th century. Anthropologists, increasingly skeptical of reifying and romanticizing native cultures, have moved from myths and rituals to more complex questions of modernity. But critiquing the analytical concept of folk culture cannot simply mean overlooking how the bulk of South Asia’s 1.7 billion peoples imagine and express themselves, often against the forces of power. We therefore need new comparative and interdisciplinary methods to explore how people think and create every day. In this regard, there has never been a more critical time for rethinking folk culture in South Asia. We aim to expand the study of folk cultures beyond the narrow conceptual confines of the term ‘folk’: what can this vast archive of objects, texts and performances tell us about the everyday lives and thoughts of South Asians? How have people expressed new ideas with changing historical circumstances? How have texts, performances and histories been connected to produce new forms of identity? Given the breadth, diversity and richness of these questions, we propose a full-day symposium rather than a single panel discussion. This symposium crosses boundaries of disciplines, regions and generations. Historians, anthropologists and literary scholars collectively reflect on innovative approaches to folk cultures- entanglements between texts and performances, borders, representations and identity formations. Our participants work not only all over South Asia, from Punjab to Manipur, but also in Burma and Singapore. A range of tenure-track , senior faculty, and doctoral students from three continents share insights.

  • Rethinking World War II in South Asia

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Parlor Room 629

    Organizer: Isabel Huacuja (

    Abstract: For far too long, World War II has remained on the margins of South Asian historiography and public memory. Independence and the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 have dominated both the popular imagination and the historiography, repressing the historical significance of the war years. Yet, during World War II, India functioned as a military, industrial, and logistical base for Allied operations. The British government mobilized India’s resources to pay for the war effort, and the Indian army expanded dramatically with Indian troops fighting around the world. Despite its relative neglect in the scholarship, the war’s impact on South Asia in terms of law, economics, and technologies, was significant and long lasting. This symposium analyzes the influence of World War II in South Asia from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Presentations will consider the economic repercussions of the war, as well as the war’s influence on legal, medical, scientific, and pedagogical discourses. We will also analyze literary, cinematic, and journalistic representations of this conflict in a range of South Asian languages. While the focus is on South Asia, many presenters also consider the global impact of South Asians’ involvement in the war, including the Indian National Army (INA) trials in Singapore, as well as the global opium trade. Drawing together media studies’ scholars, literary scholars, anthropologists, and historians of South Asia, the symposium not only challenges Euro-centric understandings of World War II, but also unsettles political assumptions about the 1940s in South Asia.

  • South Asian Muslim Studies Association Symposium: Insider/Outsider Perspectives in South Asian Muslim Studies

    Half Day Symposium, 1:45 pm – 5:30 pm
    Conference Room 1

    Organizer: Roger Long (

    Abstract: The preoccupation with authenticity that has characterized social science research since the turn of the century has inevitably led to giving ever more attention to the boundaries defining insider/outsider status in a number of categories. Thus, issues of identity in reference to generational, gender-specific, socio-economic, ethno-racial, regional, religious, ideological, and intellectual membership have increasingly become the focus of both analysis and debate. But the effort at avoiding “othering” any particular group has concealed the value inherent in exploring the differences between insider and outsider perspectives on any issues for which membership defines identity. The 2018 SAMSA Symposium invites contributions addressing the tension between insider and outsider interpretations in South Asian Muslim history, politics, and intellectual/ideological expressions of all kinds. Contrasting and comparing various approaches to one issue, or focusing instead on the process by which boundaries emerge, or one particular perspective gets privileged, are all equally valuable, and are welcome. These can include such issues as modernity and tradition, including the conflict between colonial modernity and tradition, the concept of the singular nation-state in India that seeks to place Muslims as a national minority, the clash between rival interpretations of Islamic law and practice, the role of women in the family and society, the debate among educationists over curriculum, Middle Eastern and South Asian concepts of religious practice, electoral and political behavior, and regional variations in social and religious practices. List of speakers: Laura Dudley, Jenkins, Yasmin Saikia, Roger D. Long, M. Raisur Rahman, Taj Hashmi, Sana Haroon, Mehr Farooqi, Usha Sanyal, Sanaa Riaz, Jenniferr Dubrow Justification: The richness of the subject of the “other” in South Asian Muslim history means that a number of scholars will be able to share their research with their colleagues. Preliminary schedule: 2 morning panels, 2 afternoon panels, and a Symposium Dinner with invited speaker.

  • Science, Technology, and Medicine (STM) in South Asia Symposium - Medicine and Memory: Temporal Aspirations, Continuities, Ruptures and the Now

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Parlor Room 327

    Organizer: Lisa Brooks (

    Abstract: We propose to organize the third annual “Science, Technology, and Medicine (STM) in South Asia Symposium,” around the theme “Medicine and Memory: Temporal Aspirations, Continuities, Ruptures and the Now Across Medical Traditions.” This symposium will engage issues of temporality, periodization and engagements with the past and future, from historiographic, ethnographic and philological perspectives. We envision bringing together scholars working across South Asian medical traditions, including biomedicine, Naturopathy, Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, and Sowa Rigpa medicines. We also plan to include an equal number of graduate students and faculty members to stimulate creative discussion, encourage mentorship, and facilitate future collaborations. Invited scholars work across time periods in a range of fields including anthropology, history, philology, feminist and gender studies, science studies, post-colonial theory, media studies, and literary studies in Sanskrit, Malayalam, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Bengali and other languages. The stakes of authority, authenticity, and efficacy in medical traditions often rely upon claims made upon the past, in the form of treatises, historical or imagined personages, and narratives of continuity or rupture. In this symposium we are particularly interested in considering temporal engagements reflected in the often-intersecting and interacting medical traditions that we study. This is particularly urgent in a moment of rising ethnocentric nationalisms across the region. With attention to the coexistence of plural medical systems, this symposium is underpinned by an interest in the hybrid modes of historical sensibility through which medical practices transform. Ranging from pre-colonial narratives of cosmic and mythic time to more recent manifestations that celebrate developmental progress as essential modalities of the nation-state, this symposium seeks to examine how South Asian medical traditions are not static and unchanging, but transform alongside their associated temporal imaginations.

  • South Asian Communication Research: Problems and Prospects

    Half Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 12:15 pm
    Conference Room 2

    Organizer: Jordan Stalker (

    Abstract: This half-day symposium showcases projects and conversations by media scholars doing work about South Asia and the South Asian diaspora. Anthony Moretti, Robert Morris University, will facilitate two roundtable discussions featuring emerging and established scholars whose focus is on the theory and practice of communication, journalism and media in and about South Asia. Scholars from all disciplines are welcome to attend and collaborate and engage in dialogue about a) building a communication and media studies research agenda through a South Asian lens, b) examining how to raise the profile of South Asia studies, regardless of discipline, and c) sharing success stories in gaining a tenure-track position within a U.S. college or university.

  • "The Fix" in South Asia

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Assembly Room

    Organizer: Michele Friedner (

    Abstract: “Fixing” has various definitions associated with curing, repairing, treating, making steady, and maintaining, among others. How might we approach relationships between a diverse set of actors that lead to or involve “a fix?” Changes to infrastructure, bodies, and policies are often framed in terms of development, improvement, and innovation. In this symposium, participants work through “the fix” as a means of interrupting grand and teleological notions of development in order to consider what might occur between the poles of failure and progress, brokenness and wholeness, cure and disability, and decay and generation. “The fix” includes both pragmatic and creative modes of engagement as diverse actors attempt to make do, maintain and adjust. We intend “the fix” to function in multiple registers involving different kinds of valuation; “the fix” can also be nefarious at the same time that it is ingenious. “The fix” is good enough or sometimes not enough; the concept of “jugaad” serves as an example of this ambivalence in the ways that it is both scorned and embraced as a value and mode of living. “The fix” is also a play on questions of mobility and immobility in that while the state and corporate actors attempt to fix bodies and capital in place (and yet keep them flexible as their needs require), we look at different forms of unfixing that happen. “The fix” has temporal aspects as well: there can be short-term, mid-range, and long-term fixes, each with its own stakes. “Fixing” can also create new side narratives that chip away, stain, or otherwise compromise grander narratives.

  • The Politics and Poetics of South Asian Modernism

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Senate Room B

    Organizer: Preetha Mani (

    Abstract: While part of a shared literary milieu, modernist literary trends in Hindi and Urdu also began to bifurcate in the decades leading up to and following Indian and Pakistani Independence. Partly, this division was a result of the establishment of separate literary institutions for each language (such as journals, publishing houses, and literary coteries) and the ensuing development of different literary sensibilities. But partly, the rift was due to the politicization of language and the rise of right-wing nationalist formations that sought to make Hindi and Urdu national languages. In India, Hindi was increasingly Sanskritized, and in Pakistan, Urdu became more Arabicized. This symposium seeks to understand the continued relationships between the two literatures through a consideration of the fiction and critical debates that shaped modernism in Hindi and Urdu during and after the transition to Independence. Of what literary lineages did Hindi and Urdu writers consider their work a part? How did they define the political and aesthetic functions of modernist literature? What kinds of readerships did Hindi and Urdu writers aim to create? And, how did they draw from and expand upon, as well as contest and diverge from other modernist literatures across the subcontinent and abroad? While recent scholarship has been interested in explaining the contours of Hindi and Urdu modernist fiction and criticism, none have considered the two streams in concert. The symposium brings together scholars who can explore the overlaps and divergences between Hindi and Urdu modernism and foreground thinkers who have grappled with the violence of subcontinental decolonization and national growth and change.

  • Tombs, Shrines, Samadhis and Relics

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Parlor Room 634

    Organizer: Brian Hatcher (

    Abstract: This one-day symposium offers a comparative thematic investigation of textual traditions, rituals, architecture forms, and lived practices associated with tombs, shrines, samadhis, relics and related built environments in South Asian religions. Central questions for the symposium include: What theological and ritual precepts inform the practice of burial around holy figures, saints and gurus? Can we identify cross-regional or cross-communal patterns for such practice while remaining sensitive to the development of local, vernacular and sectarian articulations? How have samadhis, tombs and dargahs been used to expand and perpetuate the presence/control of religious institutions within (or across) regions? What has been the role of devotional and other initiatory movements (sampradays) in propagating the cult of deceased leaders? Conversely, how has the spread of built memorials helped in the emplacement and sacralization of new territory? Finally, how do people today interact with, live around, transform or engage such built environments across the subcontinent? Through these questions, this symposium will facilitate productive give-and-take between the particular and the general, the local and the trans-local, the bounded and unbounded play of community formation and lived religious practice in South and Southeast Asia. The panel organizers share disciplinary training in religious studies, with particular regional engagements in western, northern and eastern South Asia. With this symposium they aim to promote cross-disciplinary and cross-regional conversation around the spatial and historical manifestations of various tradition-based responses to death, interment, memorialization, pilgrimage and architecture. Participants in the symposium thus include specialists in archaeology, art history, religious studies and history and employ related methods for interrogating a range of spatial practices, ritual environments, gender roles, and aesthetic traditions. Our goal is to foster not only in-depth study of particular sites, ritual complexes and built structures but also comparison around the role of these elements throughout South Asian history.

  • Translation

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Caucus Room

    Organizers: Daisy Rockwell ( & Archana Venkatesan (

    Abstract: This year’s translation symposium builds on our first meeting last year that focused on issues of translation praxis. Emerging from that discussion, our emphasis is on the notion of the untranslatable. The notion of the untranslatable and the ways in which it may limit or circumscribe the category of World Literature, has been discussed at length in translation studies, most recently by Emily Apter (2013). However, much of this work has centred on Euro-American literature, on text-based translations, and those literatures we encounter primarily in and through translation into English. Our symposium centres itself in multi-lingual South Asia, and considers the process of translation that occurs across regions, religions, media and languages. Our symposium invites translators from and to South Asian languages across a wide swath of disciplines and practices to engage in questions of untranslatability as part of an all-day conversation. As translators, we are interested in questions of practice: we will discuss, dispute and detail idiosyncratic problems, dramatic successes, insurmountable barriers, and missed opportunities. What do we mean when we say a text, word, or emotion is untranslatable? How does translatability change according to context and medium? A text that is not considered translatable into English prose or poetry might be translatable into a visual or performance medium, for example. Or a poem that can be translated from Tamil into Italian is for some reason untranslatable into English. Translatability shifts according to context, medium, language, historical era, and even from translator to translator. One woman’s untranslatable story is another’s most finely crafted rendering. The day will close with a dinner and mehfil—an evening of readings, recitations and performances drawn from the participants’ own work.

  • Urdu Keywords

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Senate Room A

    Organizer: Walter Hakala (

    Abstract: Urdu has developed a rich and evolving terminology in parallel with its long tradition of literary criticism. The 2018 Urdu Symposium seeks to continue and expand upon the 2017 Preconference, “How (Not) to Write the History of Urdu Literature,” by examining a set of key terms central to literary production and critical reception. By tracing changes in the signification and cultural associations of these key terms, participants aim to emulate the example of Raymond Williams’ influential Keywords (1976) in order to establish a shared framework for future studies of Urdu literary history. Questions that the papers may address include How do Urdu literary terms and critical approaches mediate authority in specific historical, cultural, and geographic settings? In what hierarchical ways do aesthetic, institutional, and critical terms mark boundaries or bridge connections among authors, critics, and audiences? What does the adaptation of Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, English, and other terminologies in the Urdu critical tradition reveal about the limits of translation? What’s at stake when Urdu sources are analyzed in English, Persian, etc.? What are the primary sources through which the genealogies of specific terms might be established? How might we expand this list to include other media and the contributions of underrepresented communities? How might one conduct research on language and concepts without reifying the very categories that are being described? Can Urdu’s plurality and complicated interactions with other literatures be recognized while maintaining shared intelligibility? Symposium participants will be required to precirculate draft entries so that we may devote the daylong event to giving brief (approximately 5-minute) presentations followed by more substantial discussions of methods and sources. Participants will have the option of publishing their work immediately as part of Professor Frances Pritchett’s website or other future collaborations (e.g., through an edited volume or special issue of a journal).

  • Zones of Occupation, Abandonment and Exception in South Asia/Provisionality and Vulnerabilities in South Asia

    Full Day Symposium, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
    Madison College Meeting Room 1

    Organizers: Amit Baishya (, Ather Zia (, and the Critical Kashmir Studies (CKS) Collective

    Abstract: In The Right to Maim, Jasbir Puar identifies a complementary logic to the sovereign right to kill. She calls this complementary logic the “right to maim”—that of “creating injury and maintaining…populations as perpetually debilitated, yet alive, in order to control them.” This logic can also be applied to the larger South Asian context, especially for zones that live under the shadow of militarized forms of rule, like Kashmir and Northeast India. Consider two recent instances here. First, is the use of pellet guns and the incidents of what has been termed as mass blindings in Kashmir increasingly since 2016. Second, the instances of police shooting as a form of “crowd control” in the Northeast Indian state of Assam. As Ankur Tamuli Phukan says: “The Assam police assumed this trigger-happy character in the 1990s by trying to emulate the Indian Army alongside which it was engaged to combat the ULFA…So now the police deal with protesters like they would with hardened insurgents, by shooting to kill.” This symposium seeks to untangle the complementary logics of the right to kill and the right to maim in multiple zones of occupation and abandonment in South Asia. By paying attention to cultural production, we ask what forms of life, modes of death and capacities for survival and endurance are engendered in such exceptional zones where the right to kill and the right to maim shadow and complement each other? What constitutes “life” and “living” and what falls into the realm of “nonlife” or lack of animacy in militarized locales?  We want to explore the nature of relation that emerges between the citizens and the regimes through the optics of maiming. What forms of ability, disability and debility do we encounter if we take such issues into consideration? Besides the exploration of necropolitical topographies, we are also interested in probing temporal experiences—how are conjunctions between “sudden” and “slow” scales of death manifested in such zones of occupation and/or abandonment, for instance? We welcome presentations from all disciplines in the social sciences and humanities to build up a broad dialogue about life, living and dying in such exceptionalized spaces. The endeavor of this symposium is to build new solidarities across networks of scholars working in different regions of South Asia.


    Opening Remarks (9-9:15 am)

    9:15 – 10:15am: Panel 1, Zone I, Northeast India

    “Submission without rights” and Incomplete Citizenship: Comparative Occupations in Postcolonial Democracies and the Modes of Inclusive-Exclusion
    Papori Bora, Centre for Women’s Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

    Identity, Governmentality and the State Apparatus: The Incidence of Recent Police Killings in Assam
    Amrapali Basumatary, Kirori Mal College, New Delhi

    Mihat Phajade: What is the right way to kill?
    Haripriya Soibam, IIAS Fellow

    Break 10:30-10:45

    10:30am – 12:00pm: Panel 2, Zone II, Kashmir

    Kashmiri Pasts, Kashmiri Futures: Youth, Debility and Time in Kashmir
    Deepti Misri, University of Colorado-Boulder

    Humane Violence and Necessary Evils:  Examining Debates on the Use of Pellet Guns in Indian-Occupied Kashmir
    Reema Cherian, UC-Davis

    Exploring the Moral Gray Zones in Indian-Administered Kashmir
    Ather Zia, University of Colorado-Greeley

    The Roar on the Other Side of Silence
    Suvir Kaul, University of Pennsylvania

    Lunch (12:15-1:45)

    1:45 – 2:45pm: Panel 3, Zones of Exception in South Asia

    Beef Lynchings, the Unnao and Kathua Rapes, and Protest Poetry in India
    Sreyoshi Sarkar, Ball State University

    Caste Wars and the Politics of Maiming and Killing: Insights from Armed and ‘Peaceful’ Land Struggles in Bihar
    Indulata Prasad, Arizona State University

    Exception or Norm?: Patterns of Violence in Mainstream India
    Ania Loomba, University of Pennsylvania

    3:00 – 4:30pm: Panel 4, Environmental and Legal States of Abandonment

    Felling Rebellion: Timber Exploitation in the Kashmir Valley Under Militarized Rule
    Emily Doerner, NYU

    Specters in the Background: The Braiding of Temporalities of Violence in Indira Goswami’s “Jaatraa”
    Amit R. Baishya, University of Oklahoma

    “Blood and Water Cannot Flow Together”: The Indus Water Treaty and Zones of Abandonment in Kashmir
    Mona Bhan, DePauw University

    Legal Contestation and Social Transformation in Kashmir
    Haley Duschinski, Ohio University

    4:45 – 5:45pm: RoundTable, Situating Solidarities

    6:00 – 6:30pm: Poetry Session
    Ather Zia, Haripriya Soibam, Amrapali Basumatary