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Religious Transnationalism on the Indian Ocean

SOAS University of London
Event organized by SOAS University of London

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Speaker: Dr Swarupa Gupta

This paper crafts a theoretical model, undergirded by primary empirical sources to explore the dynamics of religious transnationalism as reflected in networks and connections on the Indian Ocean in the twentieth century.

It explores how Indian ‘Hinduised’ heritages and sacred solidarities were subtly transformed by the Southeast Asian agency. Existing models continue to underscore Bengali-Indian cultural hegemonic strands supposedly inbuilt into the idea of a ‘Greater India’ on the oceanic rim.

Transcending such paradigms, this paper opens a new field of analysis. The speaker will argue that religious interfaces across the Indian Ocean were layered, complex and far more nuanced to be neatly fitted into above framework. By doing so, qualifying Hindu-supremacist stereotypical visions of a ‘Greater India’ by situating the theme in a wider historicist-global / transnational nexus. This is done by exploring the triadic engagement between Bengali-Indians, Europeans [the British, Dutch and French] and the Southeast Asians, reflected in subtly variant, yet contextually connected imaginings of ‘Greater India’. Further, despite the focus on metamorphosed Hinduised heritages, icons and religiosities on the Indian Ocean, the paper also delves Muslim sacred networks and supra-local centres, as well as the impact of Christian religious engagements in Southeast Asia.

The speaker will aim to locate Hindu, Muslim and Christian semiotics of sacredness within the conceptual-theoretical framework of religious transnationalism in Asia and beyond. This approach would delve the dynamics of religious-cultural “connections” reflected in intra/inter Asian, and Europe-Asia interfaces to outline a fresh paradigm of religious place-making and connected spaces. Through an interdisciplinary methodological prism, see how Bengali, European and Southeast Asian ideas and institutionalisations mediated the twin, interrelated processes of (1) transnationalism and (2) historicist specificities. By doing so, the paper would interrogate and redefine the very concept of ‘region’ in Asia, tracing its resonance, relevance, and reflections in international dialogues in the contemporary world.