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Symposium to study religion in South Asia
Symposium to study religion in South AsiaMarch 31, 2004Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
“Drawing a Line in Water: Religious Boundaries in South Asia” is the title of this year’s Ray Smith Symposium, presented by the South Asia Center in conjunction with U Encounter and the Religion and Society Program. It will be held April 1-3 in the Kilian Room, 500 Hall of Languages.
The title of the symposium comes from a question posed by ancient Mughal prince and scholar Dara Shikoh, who rhetorically asked in reference to different faiths, “How do you draw a line in water?” It focuses attention on finding accurate ways to describe the ever-changing boundaries between religions. In the context of South Asia in particular, religious identities have historically been fluid and dynamic, constantly shifting, merging, borrowing and shaping one another.
South Asia, from Pakistan east to Bangladesh and south to Sri Lanka, presents an enormous diversity of religious traditions and synergies. The subcontinent holds major populations of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and Buddhists, as well as numerous indigenous peoples and sects. Two non-mainstream Muslim traditions are particularly important in South Asia, reflecting multiple historical synergies: Ismaili, a branch of Shi’a; and Sufi, a tradition generally understood by scholars to be the inner, mystical or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. Sikhism itself is a religion that originated in the confluence of Hindu and Muslim influences in northern India. Christianity has existed in India since 200 A.D., while additional Christian populations emerged in conversion movements under colonialism.
There will be two major lectures, as well as two days of panels. Riffat Hassan, professor of religion at the University of Louisville, will open the conference April 1 at 4 p.m. with a talk titled “Struggle for Women’s Empowerment in Pakistan: Challenging Theological Assumptions and Cultural Practices.” In 1999, she founded The International Network for the Rights of Female Victims of Violence in Pakistan (INRFVVP), a non-profit organization with a worldwide membership. A native of Pakistan and a scholar of religion, Hassan is also an activist working to provide safe lives for women of all religions in Pakistan.
Vasudha Narayanan, professor of religion at the University of Florida, will give a plenary address on religious diversity in South Asia, titled “Lakshman Rekhas and Lines in Water: Visible and invisible Boundaries in South India.” Narayanan is the past president of the American Academy of Religions, the major organization for scholars of religion in the US. She is the first South Asian to hold that position.
On April 3, Faisal Devji of Yale University will conclude the conference. Panels start at 9 a.m. on April 2 and 3. For a complete schedule, see http://www-hl.syr.edu/cas-pages/Announcements/RaySmith/index.htm.