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Conference: South-South II: Materiality and Embodiment in Greater Asia and Africa (October 27-28, 2017, Columbia University, New York)

Keynote Speakers: Projit Mukharji (Associate Professor of History & Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania) and Nina Sylvanus (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Northeastern University)

The incorporation of non-humans as active participants in knowledge production has prepared the way for interrogations of the nature of “objects,” “bodies,” and their relationship to one another throughout history. Transregional studies of objects and bodies have often focused on narratives of circulation and migration. But how does an inclusion of an object or body’s embeddedness in certain geographies and temporal contexts enable new possibilities for research? Does a study of material culture, theorized through conceptions of objects and bodies, confound or confirm regional geographies? This conference seeks to give voice to histories of materiality and embodiment in the Global South, in particular in Africa and Greater Asia broadly defined.

“Unidentified object” by Iran via The Metropolitan Museum of Art is licensed under CC0 1.0

This conference thus poses two primary questions. First, how can African and Asian concepts and archives be used to reframe discourses on materiality and embodiment in the Global South? Second, what new optics of research do historical and historiographical questions about materiality and embodiment within the geographies of Greater Asia and Africa enable? Between these framing questions, many more emerge: how does the study of material culture intersect with processes of both circulation and embeddedness? How do materials themselves structure political economies? What are the ways, if any, of recovering histories of materials without the histories of humans? What purposes do materials serve in therapeutics, and how do they shape wellbeing – whether biomedical, physiological, psychological, political, religious, or otherwise? Where does the line between human and material blur, and in what ways can materiality be understood as an extension of embodiment or personhood?

This two-day conference will take place on October 27th and 28th at Columbia University in New York.

Click here for information about last year’s South-South conference, “Intellectual History across Middle East and South Asia, 1857-1948.”

A Muslim Cosmopolis, Or, the Individual and the Nation in Global History: An Interview with Seema Alavi

Dr. Seema Alavi

People tend to assume the origins of contemporary events, alliances and disagreements belong to the recent if not the immediate past. Recent news articles highlight with surprise the Arabicization of Islamic practice in South Asia – most prominently with respect to the murder of several bloggers in Bangladesh. But India has a long history of intellectual contact with the Arab world. The Madrasa Saulatia in Mecca was set up by an Indian Muslim Rahmatullah Kairanwi – a key protagonist in Seema Alavi’s book Muslim Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Empire (2015) – as a “centre for embracive reformist Islam with a strong Indic tradition.” It remains a major scholarly hub, retaining intellectual contact with Sunni Muslim seminaries all over the world. It’s own orientation now can be described as a purist intellectual tradition of Islam. For example, it receives patronage “from the Abd-al Wahab impacted Saudi ruling house,” even as – Alavi is quick to remind us of this – its scholarly tradition stands in stark contrast to the violence that is often perpetrated in the name of Wahabi Islam. In this respect, Alavi’s book Muslim Cosmopolitanism is a fundamentally revisionist text that works through the category of the individual and of the nation. She draws out the history of how a modern vision of Islamic universal selfhood was articulated in the mid-nineteenth century: the processes that connected Indic reformist strands in Islam with Hamidian notions of modernity centred on jurisprudence. In her account, cities such as Cairo thus appear as more than just a site that elucidated anti-British nationalism. Importantly, the book foregrounds how modern histories of South Asia limit key protagonists in this larger global story to the territorial bounds of modern India, even as the records of imperial Britain show how they negotiated trans-imperial identities across South Asia and the Ottoman empire. Continue reading A Muslim Cosmopolis, Or, the Individual and the Nation in Global History: An Interview with Seema Alavi