This two-day interdisciplinary workshop focuses on exchange in the scholarly study of religion in Asia and the Caribbean in the long twentieth century. We aim, first, to gain insight in how academic ideas about, and self-images of local religious identities and expressions travel, develop and influence each other. Second, we foreground the impact of ‘difficult histories’ on exchange between scholarly and religious knowledge. Difficult histories may include political crises, decolonization wars, civil wars, regime changes, periods of mass violence and repression, and/or natural disasters. Sites of religion (texts, rituals, sacred sites or objects) are the vantage point and methodological device to explore the dynamics of scholarly and religious knowledge production (Mandal 2012; 2013), and to understand the impact of difficult histories on the transformation of ideas on local religion across time and space. We ask participants to interrogate how and why in the context of difficult histories scholarly ideas about religion, religious (self-)expressions and accommodation of alternative religions change (or not) within the region and site of research, or to explore how these ideas transform as they travel from the sites of research to academic structures (institutions, conferences, publications) elsewhere and back.
Building on, but also going beyond, recent scholarship on the role of religion in histories of Orientalism and Area Studies (e.g. App 2010; Marchand 2009; Paramore 2016), the workshop will investigate how academic and religious forms of knowledge have influenced each other at sites of religion and academia. This approach feeds into the recent recognition and study of the fluid boundaries between formal scholarly knowledge of religion (as developed in academic institutions and museums) and popular and authoritative forms of religious knowledge (Lardinois 2007; Hoesterey 2016; Kahn 2016). In addition, we aim to engage with the forms of critical introspection that have emerged within the growing fields of transnational history and histoire croisée. The recent focus on transnational mobilities and identities has yielded fresh insights into why and how people identify with worlds of ideas, beliefs, and related histories that differ from or compete with official, state-centred histories. It has also, however, had a polishing effect, increasing the risk of constructing idealized and elitist worlds of unified cosmopolitans and of obfuscating the impact of state formation, power relations, and the unsettling or traumatic experiences of regime change, disasters and/or mass violence and repression. By focusing on mechanisms of exchange within the triangle of scholarly study, religious knowledge, and difficult histories, this workshop bring back into focus the edges that have been ironed out in the transnational study of religion, mobility and identity.
The workshop takes place the financial support of KITLV and the Asian Modernities and Traditions Program (AMT) of, and in collaboration with, Leiden University, within the framework of the KITLV Research-cluster ‘Mobility and Identity’, and the Asia-year in Leiden featuring the launch of Leiden University’s Asia-library. It links up with a Round Table held in Cambridge in June 2016, aiming to bring ‘difficult histories’ (back) into debates about transnational mobility of people, ideas, cultural and historical knowledge production, and imaginations of the regions.
Sumit Mandal (University of Nottingham Malaysia)
Iza Hussin (University of Cambridge)
Tim Harper (University of Cambridge)
James Hoesterey (Emory University)
Teren Sevea (University of Pennsylvania)
Sri Margana (Gadjah Mada University)