We are happy to announce that the South Asia Religions (SARI) Unit will be sponsoring the following panel and roundtables at the 2023 AAR Annual Meeting:

New Directions in South Asian Religions
Saturday, 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Grand Hyatt-Bowie C (2nd Floor)

The New Directions panel introduces new research in the study of language and religion in South Asia by recently-graduated Ph.D. students and doctoral candidates. This year’s papers examine topics ranging from devotion and service to religious literature in Sanskrit and regional languages. In doing so, panelists also consider the intersections of religion with gender, caste, virtue, and politics.

Ved Patel: “Choosing to Serve: Women Ājīvan Sevaks in the Swaminarayan Sampraday”
Ujaan Ghosh, Ohio State University: “Juggling around Jagannatha: Hindu Nationalism, Religious History Writing, and a Pre-History of Hindutva Imaginations”
Akshara Ravishankar, University of Chicago: “Narrative, Dharma, and Violence in Madhusūdana Sarasvatī’s Gūḍhārthadīpikā”
Sahaj Patel, Vanderbilt University: “Teaching Virtue and Motivating Practice: Modern Textual Production in the Swaminarayan Community”
Muhammed Shah Shajahan, Virginia Tech: “Feeding Brahmins: Poor Class and the Construction of Sovereignty in Nineteenth Century Travancore State in South India”

Queer Religion in South and Southeast Asia: Identity, Community, and Textual Traditions (Co-sponsored with Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Unit, Religion in Southeast Asia Unit)
Saturday, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Grand Hyatt-Crockett D (4th Floor)

Deriving its theoretical concerns from the disciplinary intersection of Religious Studies, Queer Studies, and Area Studies, this panel encompasses papers that mobilize methodological approaches ranging from ethnographic fieldwork to textual analysis, to raise and map out the varied dimensions of queerness in various religious traditions spanning across the geographical areas of Nepal, Srilanka, South India, and Thailand. Adopting varied methodological pursuits and theorizing on both pre-modern and modern conceptions of complexities of gender, sexuality, and body in South Asian religion, this panel is an invitation to scholars of South Asian Religions whose research spans varied geographical boundaries and methodologies in rethinking questions of queerness and lived religion.

Jessica Albrecht, Heidelberg University: “Queering religion and blurring the lines between Sri Lankan religious identities”
Jessica Vantine Birkenholtz, Pennsylvania State University: “The Role of Religion in LGBTIQ+ Activism in Nepal”
Aditya Bhattacharjee, University of Pennsylvania: “Ganesha as Gay Icon: Hinduism, Queer Identity, and Contemporary Thai Religion”
Prathik Murali, University of Florida: “Loving a male God from a man’s body: Complicated desires in śrīvaiṣṇava commentaries”

Pedagogical Strategies for Teaching Caste and Casteism in North American Contexts (Co-sponsored with North American Hinduism Unit)
Saturday, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
San Antonio Convention Center-Room 301C (Ballroom Level)

This roundtable explores pedagogical strategies for teaching caste and casteism in North American higher education. Whereas in South Asian countries like India “caste” is a fairly ubiquitous social grammar that informs and constitutes many aspects of everyday life, in other countries like the United States students often come into classroom settings from a variety of racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds that may or may not have exposure to the subtleties and complex histories of caste and casteism. Similarly, students from South Asian backgrounds may be mixed race, mixed caste, and/or second- or third-generation savarna immigrants to the United States, and thus potentially unsure or unaware of how to understand their own positionality and legacy in the social realities of caste. This roundtable addresses these challenges, and critically examines the role higher education can take in addressing the historic and ongoing violence of casteism and caste-based discrimination.

Drishadwati Bargi, University of Minnesota
Shreya Maini, Duke University
Patton Burchett, College of William and Mary
Leela Prasad, Duke University
Shaista Aziz Patel, University of California, San Diego

Animals, Rituals, & Power in South Asian Religions
Sunday, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Grand Hyatt-Republic A (4th Floor)

This panel explores how various South Asian religious communities involve animals in ritual and how power relates to these animal intra-actions. Analyzing Sanskrit, Telugu, and Tamil texts and with attentive ethnography conducted in Tamil and Bangla speaking regions, we reveal animal participation in Buddhist, Hindu, Vedic, Muslim, and vernacular traditions. Animals’ salvific power erupts in Purāṇic stories and contemporary oral vernaculars, with these particular animals still worshipped in ritual at a powerful Shaivite temple today. Vedic hymn-poems mark wild animals as beastly disrupters of correct ritual practice and liken non-Vedic human outsiders to the same wild animal status. Modern-day Sundarbans aquatic animals are equated with divine and demonic powers and water rites aim to correct ecological and spiritual imbalances. Finally, contemporary captive elephants work at Hindu and Buddhist temple sites as emblems of power, possessing ritual agency, and now serving as political pawns. Although animals complicate our understanding of South Asian religions, we cannot ignore animal labor in human ritual practice, nor their labor in religious power structures.

Jarrod Whitaker, Wake Forest University: “The Role of the Monstrous Other in Ancient India”
Andrea Gutierrez, The University of Texas at Austin: “The Elephant in the Room (& Temple): The Religious Right’s Involvement in India’s Captive Elephant Lives”
Sravani Kanamarlapudi, University of Texas at Austin: “Animal Devotion and Salvific Power in Hindu Purāṇic Traditions: A Case Study”
Calynn Dowler, Vanderbilt University: “Repairing Relations: Other-than-human Power and Fishing Rituals in the Sundarbans”

Author Meets Critics Roundtable on SherAli Tareen’s Perilous Intimacies
Sunday, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Marriott Rivercenter-Conference Room 13

Friendship—particularly interreligious friendship—offers both promise and peril. After the end of Muslim political sovereignty in South Asia, how did Muslim scholars grapple with the possibilities and dangers of Hindu-Muslim friendship? How did they negotiate the incongruities between foundational texts and attitudes toward non-Muslims that were informed by the premodern context of Muslim empire and the realities of British colonialism, which rendered South Asian Muslims into a political minority? In his groundbreaking new book Perilous Intimacies, SherAli Tareen explores how leading South Asian Muslim thinkers imagined and contested the boundaries of Hindu-Muslim friendship from the late eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. This roundtable brings together four readers of the book to reflect on its significance for Islamic studies, South Asian religions, and the anthropology and intellectual history of political Islam.

Elaine Fisher, Stanford University
Khurram Hussain, Lehigh University
Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst, University of Vermont
Noah Salomon, University of Virginia

RISA/SARI 40th Anniversary Roundtable
Monday, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM
San Antonio Convention Center-Room 007C (River Level)

This roundtable is a celebration and examination of the 40-year history of the Religions in South Asia Unit (RISA) of the AAR, which became the South Asian Religions Unit (SARI) in 2022. With panelists including former co-chairs from the 1990s until now, one of the founding members of the listserv, and recent and current steering committee members, this panel revisits the histories of the RISA/SARI Unit and offers a space to think collectively with the broader SARI community about what the Unit is and where we as a Unit and online community hope to go in the coming years. This roundtable opens up an important space that is otherwise unavailable in the annual business meeting of the Unit to hold extended discussion as a scholarly community. As we survey our first forty years, this panel asks, what are we inspired to become by our 50th anniversary?

Vasudha Narayanan, University of Florida
Lance Nelson, University of San Diego
Sarah Pierce Taylor, University of Chicago
Karen Ruffle, University of Toronto
Arun Brahmbhatt, St. Lawrence University
Anand Taneja, Vanderbilt University

Business Meeting:
Jennifer Ortegren, Middlebury College, Presiding
SherAli Tareen, Franklin and Marshall College, Presiding

Adivasi Religions: Tradition and Modernity (Co-sponsored with Indigenous Religious Traditions Unit)
Monday, 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Grand Hyatt-Bowie B (2nd Floor)

The panel reflects on the lived aspects of Adivasi religions as Adivasi communities encounter modernity while navigating issues of marginality while maintaining their traditional legacies. It speaks to Adivasis’ agency in adapting their religious practices while being conscious of their interlocutors as they aspire for recognition. The process of recognition also renders transformations, codifications, and systematization of Adivasi religions in response to challenges posed by development and neoliberalism. Despite these transformations, Adivasis maintain an affective relationship with their gods through rich oral and performative traditions, now finding new locations, meanings, and histories as they encounter new audiences and interlocutors. Presenters bring forth the dynamic nature of Adivasi religious traditions, their fluidity in socio-political change, and their critical importance for practitioners.

Elsa Marty, University of Chicago: “The Sarna Religion: An Ancient Faith for the Modern World”
Maharshi Vyas, University of California, Santa Barbara: “Transformations of Bhil Religious Traditions in Practice and Representation”
Gregory D. Alles, McDaniel College: “Pithoras, Tradition, and the Modern”

Author Meets Critics Roundtable on Barton Scott’s Slandering the Sacred
Monday, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
San Antonio Convention Center-Room 007C (River Level)

An Author Meets Critics Roundtable Session for discussion on Barton Scott’s new book Slandering the Sacred: Blasphemy Law and Religious Affect in Colonial India published this year by the University of Chicago Press as part of the prestigious Class 200 series. Slandering the Sacred takes the specific case study of Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits deliberate harm or injury to religious feelings of a community, to raise and address larger and immensely consequential questions connected to the interaction of law, religion, and secular power in India and beyond. A multifaceted intellectual history cum literary analysis of blasphemy law, Slandering the Sacred moves between nineteenth-century and contemporary Britain and India to show that colonial discourses and conceptions of blasphemy were shaped and indebted to the life of this category as it operated among the colonized religious communities of India. This roundtable panel brings together scholars at different career stages invested in questions of law, religion, and secularism in India and beyond from varied thematic perspectives and specializations in Religious Studies and cognate disciplines.

Arvind Mandair, University of Michigan
Tisa Wenger, Yale University
Deonnie Moodie, University of Oklahoma
Marko Geslani, University of South Carolina

Girlhood in South Asian Religions (Co-sponsored with Women and Religion Unit)
Monday, 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM
San Antonio Convention Center-Room 007B (River Level)

While analyses of gender and women, as well as “youth,” have grown in South Asian studies in recent decades, “girlhood” remains relatively understudied. This roundtable complicates processes of empowerment and agency for girls as they are situated within South Asian religious contexts. Framing questions include: What defines girlhood? What are the boundaries of girlhood and how are girls enabled to cross these boundaries? In what ways are girls granted religious agency, in what ways do they generate it for themselves, and how do such formations help us critique the very notions of girlhood and agency? What is the role of education, secular and religious, in shaping access to these forms of agency and where are the limits of those possibilities? And, perhaps most importantly, how does attention to the formative years of girlhood in South Asia help us think about the future of South Asian traditions, communities, and politics?

Christoph Emmrich, University of Toronto
Rachelle Saruya, University of Toronto
Aleksandra Restifo, Florida International University
Jennifer Ortegren, Middlebury College

Current crisis, longstanding difficulties: Religion and politics in Sri Lanka
Tuesday, 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
San Antonio Convention Center-Room 214A (Meeting Room Level)
Neena Mahadev, Yale-NUS College, Presiding

This roundtable features five panelists working on the broad and timely topic of crisis in Sri Lanka. Their diverse research will highlight various aspects of political, social and economic entanglements with religion in modern Sri Lanka. This will shed a light on the ongoing political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka since March 2022 – a crisis that influenced the research and collaborative networks of scholars and activists working in Sri Lanka in various ways as well. Ranging from the 18th century (Sri Lankan-Thai entanglements), over late colonial times (Buddhist reformist movement and early feminism) to contemporary examples (the GotaGoHome movement and Ravana-interpretations), this roundtable unlikely brings together scholarship on Sri Lanka including historical, ethnographic, and literary approaches to illuminate the immense importance of religious actors and religious communalism in Sri Lankan politics by engaging in religious, linguistic, political, and identitarian disputes and moments of change.

Jessica Albrecht, Heidelberg University
Justin Henry, Georgia College & State University
Tyler A. Lehrer, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Bernardo Brown, International Christian University, Japan
Anushka Kahandagama, University of Otago