Religious Materialities in the Indian Ocean World, 1300-1800

Summary, contact information, membership list

Religious Materialities in the Indian Ocean World, 1300-1800

This working group will to achieve three  goals directly related to the Sawyer Seminar of the same title to be held in 2015-2016: 1. To use the working group in 2014-2015 as a structured environment to strategically plan for the Seminar events; 2. To meet monthly to do a series of close readings of seminal scholarship in the field of Indian Ocean history and material culture studies; and 3. To begin thinking about long-term publication  goals related  to this project.

This seminar interrogates how material forms of religious culture  reveal the historically contingent nature of trans-local practices in the Indian Ocean World from 1300 to 1800. Such practices include the trade in Roman Catholic, Theravada Buddhist, and ShiÊ¿i Muslim relics; mosque, church, and temple architecture; funerary structures; and transformations and translations of religious food taboos and ritual commensality practices. With the premise that objects, as signs, are linguistically and culturally  marked, we explore how contact between cultures and the circulation of objects resulted in patterns of decoding, the displacement of implicit ethnographies of the other, equivalence and refraction in terminology and structure, and the formation of transcultural identities. What are objects and what do they do for different  communities who rely on them and use them to structure belief and ritual practice? In what ways are religious objects themselves commodities? How do social histories of religious objects transform and how are they transformed by the communities that use them? How does location give rise to intersecting and diverging constructions of religious space? How does language materialize religion? A focus on religious materiality in the Indian Ocean World enables us to move beyond the norm of privileging texts and the written word among historians and religious studies scholars. Textual study alone fails to account for the dynamic intra- and inter-religious interactions that were fostered by material practices. We contend that material practices and objects travel in a way that differs from ideas, dogmas, and texts; access to the latter in their untranslated forms is restricted primarily  to the elite. Material objects and practices due to their immediacy, on the other hand, reach out to and are shaped by subalterns--including the poor, the illiterate, and women--who have often been occluded from dominant histories. These traces point to modes of cultural interaction across linguistic, ethnic, class and religious boundaries that remain marginal in scholarship due in part to the regional specializations required  by our own respective disciplines and area studies focus.

To contact this working group regarding membership, meeting dates, or readings, please email Usman Hamid.

Ajay Rao, UTM Historical Studies
Karen Ruffle, UTM Historical Studies
Nhung Tuyet Tran, History
Walid Saleh, Near & Middle Eastern Civlizations and Study of Religion

Amanda Goodman, East Asian Studies and Study of Religion
Heather Miller, UTM Anthropology
Ayesha Irani, UTM Historical Studies and Study of Religion
Bhavani Raman, UTSC Historical & Cultural Studies
Libby Mills, UTSC Historical & Cultural Studies
Enrico Raffaeli, UTM Historical Studies and Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations

Zulfikar Hirji, Anthropology, York University
Jason Neelis, Religion & Culture, Wilfrid Laurier University
Michael Nijhawan, Sociology, York University

Patrick Cummins, Study of Religion
Arun Brahmbhatt, Study of Religion
Candis Haak, Anthropology
Usman Hamid, Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations
Tamara Cohen, Study of Religion
Adil Mawani, Study of Religion

Florence Pasche-Guinard, Study of Religion


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