Adivasi Christians and Contextual Theology

Elsa Marty, April 11th, 2019

Christians in the tribal state of Jharkhand are predominantly Adivasi (indigenous). In recent years, Christians have been returning to their Adivasi cultural roots and are increasingly reflecting on what it means to be simultaneously Christian and Adivasi. Drawing upon ethnographic work with two Lutheran denominations in Jharkhand, this paper explores the churches’ different approaches to articulating and promoting an Adivasi Christian identity and discusses the implications of their divergent approaches for contextual theology more broadly.

Between the Many and the One: Anticolonial Federalism and Popular Sovereignty

Nazmul Sultan, April 25th, 2019

This paper explores Indian anticolonial federalist attempts to theorize popular sovereignty against the grain of its traditional attachment to a concept of one-and-undivided peoplehood. Early twentieth-century federalist thinkers (Seal, Mukerjee, Das) claimed the very ideal of representative self-government is tethered to a philosophy of history that weds the image of one-and-undivided peoplehood with a project of European colonialism. What form of government was to be fit for Indians—and which one would truly enable self-rule—increasingly became a matter of creative speculation. The federalist turn in anticolonial Indian political thought emerged out of a sustained engagement with—and a critique of – British pluralism and American Progressive thought, and was marked by a keen engagement with the problem of collective will. Questioning the hitherto taken-for-granted assumption that the people is a one-and-undivided category, federalist thinkers such as B.N. Seal, C.R. Das, and Radhakamal Mukerjee fashioned an account of self-rule rooted in an image of “many peoples.” The paper concludes by arguing the federalist commitment to a vision of dispersed peoplehood contradicted its quest for popular authorization and ultimately brought it to an abrupt end in the 1920s (as the age of national self-determination began).

The Mahābhārata in Double Vision

Nell Hawley, May 9th, 2019

The weight of the Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata exerts a kind of gravitational pull on South Asian literature. Retellings of the Mahābhārata fill South Asia’s languages and literary genres, and each retelling answers the dark and violent world of the epic in its own way. In this presentation, I discuss one particularly unexpected response: the Sanskrit drama Pañcarātra (“The Five Nights”), attributed to the early poet Bhāsa (ca. 200 CE), which imagines a Mahābhārata in which the central characters of the Sanskrit epic actually avert the very war that is the Mahābhārata’s defining feature and live more or less happily ever after. In my reading, the play presents the epic in double vision—a feeling of construction, or integration, layered over something much more unstable.

The Emperor and His Attendants: Proximity, Intimacy and Politics in Royal Mughal Households

Emma Kalb, May 30th, 2019

Although most often analyzed in terms of their role in relation to the harem, both in secondary literature and the comparative context, this talk focuses on eunuchs’ less-studied function in relation to the inner male spaces of the palace or camp. Both in text and image, eunuchs appear as figures both marking and controlling the perimeters of such spaces, in the process playing an important part in how access, intimacy and hierarchical relations were spatialized. As we will see, this situation not only gave eunuchs an important role in mediating elite social interactions, but furthermore entangled them in at-times-dangerous political conflicts. In this way, exploring how eunuchs inhabited this precarious position serves to illuminate the uneasy intimacies that could exist within elite Mughal households.

Polemic and Doxography in Haribhadrasūri

Anil Mundra, June 6th, 2019

The notion of “polemic” is often used but rarely theorized by scholars of premodern South Asia. Meanwhile, the term “doxography,” originally coined for classical Western philosophical surveys, has gained currency in recent decades in the study of Sanskrit texts. Some Indologists conceive of these two genres as largely coextensive, while others would rather stipulate their mutual exclusion. While allowing for their differentiated analytical utility, I will substantiate Wilhelm Halbfass’s hint that no hard division can be drawn between doxography and other ways of dealing with opponents in premodern Sanskrit philosophy by displaying the continuities in the eighth-century Jain scholar-monk Haribhadrasūri’s project from the Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya—the paradigmatic South Asian doxography—through his inter- and intra-religious commentaries, up to his most overtly polemical treatises.

About the workshop

The Theory and Practice of South Asia (TAPSA) workshop and its associated Graduate Student Conference, are, in conjunction with the academic work of the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations (SALC) and the Committee on Southern Asian Studies (COSAS), an important part of the intellectual activities in South Asian studies at the University of Chicago. TAPSA workshops are scheduled in coordination with the South Asia Seminars, a separate lecture series, which is funded directly by COSAS. This arrangement provides weekly interdisciplinary intellectual events. The TAPSA talks feature presentations by University of Chicago advanced graduate students from various humanities and social sciences disciplines, including Art and Art history, Musicology, South Asian languages and civilizations, Anthropology, Sociology, History, Political science, and Religious studies.  The South Asia Seminar talks are presented by visiting scholars and faculty.  For our students, the benefits of TAPSA include the opportunity to present their work in progress to an interdisciplinary audience of peers and professors, and to benefit from the intensive interaction that is stimulated by a 45-50 minute presentation followed by 30-40 minutes of discussion.  The faculty coordinators stress that these talks are valuable opportunities for students to receive critical input from their own student colleagues and from faculty.


For the current academic year (2018-2019), the workshops take place on Thursdays from 5:00-6:20 in Foster 103. For any questions contact Supurna Dasgupta at