Vanderbilt University Divinity School announces the 2016 Mafoi Carlisle Bogitsh Lecture
to be delivered by
Anand V. Taneja
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Islamic Traditions of South Asia, Vanderbilt University
February 25, 2016
Vanderbilt Divinity School Reading Room
Islamic Saints and Hindu Daughters: Kinship, Ethical Self-Fashioning, and Inter-religious Relations at Firoz Shah Kotla Dargah, Delhi
Relations between religions in South Asia have been seen as marked by either competition or syncretism. Is there another way of understanding the inter-religious interaction? Turning to the interactions between Muslims and Hindus at the popular Muslim saint-shrine of Firoz Shah Kotla in Delhi, I offer another model in this lecture—one of religions opening up new potentialities of ethical life and self-fashioning for the others they interact with, without either “conversion” or the dilution of doctrinal specificity. At Firoz Shah Kotla, the ethics of social interaction are anti-identitarian. People actively avoid asking each other’s names, which easily identify one’s religious community and caste. Instead, people follow an ethic of nameless intimacy, where they become friends and share intimate secrets while, on one level, remaining strangers. Women, for example, freely express their disaffection with the often oppressive structures of their natal and marital families. The ability to form communities of hamdardi (shared pain/empathy) while stepping out of one’s socially determined identity, I argue, is a major factor in the healing power of Muslim saint shrines such as Firoz Shah Kotla. This healing efficacy can be linked to anti-patriarchal strands within Islam and to the Islamic ethic of gharib-navazi (hospitality to strangers/others), which is of particular importance to Sufi orders. By offering us a model of Islam as an ethical inheritance as opposed to a religious identity, Firoz Shah Kotla forces us to rethink normative ideas of religion, and the role of Islam in the ethical and religious life of North India.
Professor Taneja is a historically informed anthropologist working on religion and popular culture in urban South Asia. His work is characterized by two complementary foci: 1) How pre-colonial Islamic ethics and political theologies continue to inform shared religious practices, cultural forms (particularly Bombay cinema), and modes of relating to self and Other in contemporary South Asia. 2) How the textures of everyday life, including interactions with the state, altered experiences of temporality, and shifting ecologies, profoundly influence popular theology. His book-project, Time, Islam, and Enchantment in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi, focuses on the ritual practices, dream-lives and modes of healing and sociality shared by Hindu and Muslim communities in contemporary Delhi’s medieval ruins, where Islamic spirits known as jinn are venerated as saints. He explores how these theologically novel saint-shrines emerge in a complex landscape of erasures and altered temporalities inaugurated by the Partition of India, and the massive ecological shifts and legal enchantments inaugurated by the post-colonial State, but also represent a continuing dialogue with the subaltern memory of Sufi ethics shared across conventional religious divides.