PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
Denver, CO
November 17-20, 2018

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Hinduism Unit
Theme: Hindu Humor: Mining the Best Bits of a Rich Religious Tradition from the Outside In and the Inside Out
Deepak Sarma, Case Western Reserve University, Presiding
Saturday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Convention Center-Mile High 2C (Lower Level)

This papers session’s four prospectors find funny facets of Hinduism, highlight their explosive nature, and explore how they have been appropriated without and within this religion. Focusing on satire and farce in classical and vernacular languages from ancient through postcolonial eras, the quartet resorts to textual study and ethnography to show how Śaiva Kālidāsa satirizes righteous Rāma in a secondary Sanskrit epic from fifth-century Ujjain, how Jain Hastimalla overdoes his Sanskrit-and-Prakrit depiction of Hanumān’s lovesick parents in late-thirteenth-century South India, how Bengali folk hero Gopal Bhar has been getting the better of his employer Raja Krishnacandra since the eighteenth century, and how Brahmin satirists rail against priestly orthodoxy and/or Western modernity in the twentieth century. The session presenters, with the help of their presider and respondent, thus will illuminate the blurriness of the line between laughing with a worldview from the inside and laughing at that outlook from the outside.

Shubha Pathak, American University
Creating a Sectarian Satire in a Secondary Epic: Kālidāsa’s Śaiva Recastings of the Rising and Setting Solar Dynasty

Near the end of his genealogical epic, the Raghuvaṃśa, the classical poet Kālidāsa limns the last customary adult Solar dynast, Agnivarṇa, as a lascivious lush. This indolent king’s caustic secondary-epic depiction has theological and political implications. Employed by Vaiṣṇava Gupta emperors, Śaiva Kālidāsa contrasts Agnivarṇa reclining and declining in his neglected capital, Ayodhyā, to his illustrious ancestor Rāma, who assures Ayodhyā’s flourishing by adhering to dharma in the primary epic Rāmāyaṇa. Even the demon Rāvaṇa, Rāma’s Śiva-worshiping Rāmāyaṇa opponent, leads his kingdom Laṅkā to be a landmark of aesthetic pleasures consummating kāma rather than a hotbed of kāma’s harms, as embodied by Agnivarṇa’s STD-riddled corpse toward the Raghuvaṃśa’s conclusion. In accenting Agnivarṇa’s distance both from his Solar ancestor Rāma and from Rāma’s Southern antagonist Rāvaṇa while maintaining the story of Rāma’s victory over Rāvaṇa, Kālidāsa articulates his devotion to Śiva in distinction to Viṣṇu, the god of Kālidāsa’s Gupta patrons.

Gregory Clines, Harvard University
Drunk Parrots in the Pleasure Forest: Humor in the Jain Author Hastimalla’s Añjanāpavanañjaya

The literature of Jain authors rarely springs to mind when thinking about humor in South Asia. This paper, though, argues that Jain authors could be masters of humor and that humor served multiple social purposes, functioning, for instance, as a tool for public ingratiation while simultaneously allowing an author to lampoon surreptitiously dominant themes in social and religious life. Specifically, the paper will examine the Añjanāpavanañjaya (The Drama of Añjanā and Pavanañjaya) by Hastimalla. Written in South India, probably at the end of the thirteenth century, the drama focuses on Hanumān’s parents: his mother, Añjanā, and his father, Pavanañjaya. While Hastimalla was indebted to earlier Jain versions of the story of Hanumān, he took extensive liberties in reworking the story of Añjanā and Pavanañjaya. This paper examines how Hastimalla utilizes traditional Sanskrit aesthetics, stilted dialogue, and Prakrit language use to create a dominant atmosphere of humor, and, further, the religious and social implications of such humor.

Joel Bordeaux, Stony Brook University
Gopal Save the King: Hagiographic Humor and the "Bengali Birbal"

Few figures from Bengali folklore are as ubiquitous as Gopal Bhar, the semi-mythical jester at the court of Raja Krishnacandra, epicenter of Sanskritic culture in the region during the 18th century. Children’s books, cartoons, and sitcoms capitalize on Gopal’s appeal as a wit and trickster whose themes overlap with Birbal stories. This talk will not attempt to comprehensively survey the growing corpus of folklore related to Gopal Bhar, nor to explain in general sense his appeal. Rather, it focuses on motifs in these tales lampooning both Hindu and Muslim leaders as hidebound and impractical in their application of religious principles. However, in the case of Gopal’s patron Raja Krishnacandra, the most common target of such satire, I will suggest that this portrayal also serves hagiographic function by emphasizing the raja’s most stereotypically brahmin attributes and portraying him as leader of Bengal’s Hindus.

Charles Preston, Millsaps College
Mockery and Modernity: Contemporary Sanskrit Satire and Questions of Orthodoxy

We have all heard the one about the hungry Brahmin, the standard vidūṣaka gag of classical Sanskrit dramas. Yet what happens when Brahmins feel their identity and religion are under siege in twentieth-century India? Modern Sanskrit writers resurrected the prahasana (comedy or satire) and composed humorous poems and plays that critique the decline of religiosity and the foibles of contemporary Hindu society and morality under European influence. Through a comparative analysis of a handful of these witty writings, different approaches become evident among the authors as they delineate the boundaries of conservative Hindu orthodoxy and colonial Western modernity. These modern Sanskrit comedians hold a multiplicity of opinions, both conservative and progressive. Their jests also reveal a tentativeness as they salvage and forge modern Brahmin identity and Hindu society. Humor is a palliative for this stressful reconciliation between past and present as these authors laugh themselves into the future.

Rebecca Manring, Indiana University
Business Meeting:
Patton Burchett, College of William and Mary
Shubha Pathak, American University
Eastern Orthodox Studies Unit
Theme: The Icon
Vera Shevzov, Smith College, Presiding
Saturday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Convention Center-105 (Street Level)

As theological witness, devotional object, political symbol, and art commodity, the icon has been revered as sacred, valued as masterpiece, and appropriated for civic and political purposes. This panel considers the icon’s diverse meanings and functions from late antiquity to the present day, including but not limited to: the theology of the icon; icon and Orthodox spirituality; the iconographic vocation; aesthetics; ritual and liturgical practices; delineation of sacred space; history and memory; semiotics; political and national identities; controversial images and forms of iconoclasm; iconicity and authenticity; and the icon and the modern world of art.

Roberto De La Noval, University of Notre Dame
Kenotic Iconology in Theodore the Studite

Beyond Theodore the Studite’s significant and acknowledged contribution to iconophile theology through application of Aristotelian logic, there is a further, radical edge to his thought on images. Theodore affirms that “failure to go forth into a material imprint eliminates [Christ’s] existence in human form” (Anti. III.D.10). Under the pressures of combating iconoclastic thought, Theodore’s Christology becomes iconological, such that the revelation of Christ’s image in art is understood as the very purpose of the incarnation. Jacques Derrida’s theory of le supplément, wherein what is originally received as possessing full presence is displaced through supplementation of its lack, helps us analyze displacing of Christ’s incarnate form by his material representation. In Theodore, then, the cult of Christ’s icon manifests the final stage in the kenotic movement of God which contained in itself the possibility of the further emptying of ascended absence along with the Church’s supplementation of that lack through icon-making.

Evan Freeman, Yale University
Incarnate Images: Rethinking Twentieth Century Theologies of the Icon

Contemporary Orthodox icon theologies owe much to twentieth-century theologians Pavel Florensky and Leonid Ouspensky. These writers argued that icons must employ non-naturalistic styles, exemplified by Byzantine and medieval Russian iconography, to represent spiritual subjects. In contrast, Byzantine icon theology hinged on the incarnation, which was simultaneously the theological basis for, and the primary subject of, Orthodox iconography. This paper challenges this twentieth-century understanding of icons as spiritualized “windows into heaven” by examining the visual evidence of Orthodox icons themselves. It considers Byzantine Eucharistic vessels, which juxtaposed images of Christ with the bread and wine transformed into his very body and blood to argue for incarnational realism. It argues that the juxtaposition of a saint’s hieratic image with narrative deeds in vita icons represented embodied sanctity revealed in history. Finally, it examines how visual and spatial strategies in monumental iconography suggested that holy figures inhabited the same physical space as worshippers.

Aaron Hollander, Loyola University, Chicago
Visual Rhetoric and Hagiographical Resistance in Representations of St. George as a Liberator

In numerous Orthodox Christian icons of St. George, a second figure appears on the horse of the mounted warrior saint, representing in miniature the broader understanding of the saint's miraculous intervention as a liberator from captivity. This paper interrogates the figure of the boy on the horse both in light of its significance in a particular colonial and postcolonial context (modern Cyprus) and as a test site for a broader theoretical articulation of iconographic rhetoric as a means of cultural resistance. I submit that the boy on St. George's horse demonstrates how an icon can become part of a repertoire for injecting current events with hagiographical significance and for grafting a local community into sacred history.

Elena Kravchenko, Washington University, St. Louis
Protestants and Iconography in the United States: Of Commodities and Social Reform

Protestants take Eastern Orthodox iconography classes in the United States. What do these practices mean to the practitioners and what do they reveal to scholars about the relationship between religion and capitalism? In order to answer these questions, this paper traces how economically well-off American Protestants engage Eastern Orthodox iconography as a religious and consumer practice. I suggest that these practices work to help practitioners secure, what Kathryn Lofton terms, a “producerist” identity: these practices create a space to engender social change in the sphere of capitalistic mass-production. However, I also demonstrate that while the practice of writing icons helps to reorient practitioners’ attitude towards labor, it also becomes commodified as a signifier of elite economic and spiritual status. In short, religion here functions as an impetus for positive change, even as it fails to transcend the capitalistic system it seeks to transform.

Unregistered Participant
Business Meeting:
Vera Shevzov, Smith College
Brandon Gallaher, University of Exeter
Arts, Literature, and Religion Unit
Theme: Interreligious Aesthetics: From Dialogue to the Senses
S. Brent Plate, Hamilton College, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-505 (Street Level)

In its ancient Greek meanings, "aesthetics" was about sense perception, about the ways human bodies perceive the world through smells, sounds, colors, tastes, and touches, among many other sensual confrontations. In the modern age "aesthetics" evolved into abstract theories of beauty and art, often leaving the insights of the body far behind. However, new scholarly investigations have sought to revive the ancient ideas, and bring them to light alongside sensual encounters with the arts.

This panel will report on, theorize, problematize, and stimulate such sense-based aesthetics as they relate to interreligious engagements. Contributors offer a mix of case studies, theoretical approaches, and will develop insights for future work. From art exhibitions to shared meals, photography to poetry, sacred site visits to the mapping of places, contributors are working to expand the possibilities of meetings between religious practitioners within contemporary globalized cultures.

Lucinda Mosher, Hartford Seminary
Aaron Rosen, Rocky Mountain College
Susan Katz Miller, Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington
Laurie Louise Patton, Middlebury College
Religion in South Asia Unit
Theme: Religion and Aesthetics in Indo-Persian Literature
Supriya Gandhi, Yale University, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-402 (Street Level)

The Islamic literatures and practices of South Asia incorporate several cultural-linguistic syntheses; most prominently, the early, 9th–10th-century absorption by Persian of Arabic forms and Islamic norms, and the later, especially 14th–17th-century interactions of this Persianate Islam with Sanskritic language and culture. To these must be added, moreover, supplementary syntheses, such as the prior assimilation of Greek terms and concepts into Arabic, and the adaptation of cosmopolitan literary aesthetics, whether of Persian or Sanskrit, into emerging Indian vernaculars. Through an examination of texts ranging from Sultanate-period mas̱navīs to Mughal-period translations of Sanskrit texts to nineteenth-century poems of Kashmir, this panel offers diverse perspectives on this rich hybridity, focusing in particular on the intersection of religion and aesthetics, especially the pedagogical and practical role of poetry and the imagination, within the distinctly multilingual and interreligious world of north Indian Sufism.

Peter Dziedzic, Harvard University
Shamas Faqir and His Symbolic Universe(s): Discerning Religious Themes in Kashmiri Poetry

This paper explores the multifaceted production of devotional poetry in Kashmir. I analyze the poetry of the nineteenth-century Kashmiri poet Shamas Faqir as a case study for considering the intellectual confluence of Persian and Sanskrit linguistic fields alongside Sufi and Shaiva religious discourses in Kashmiri literature. Shamas Faqir employs both Persian and Sanskrit terminology as well as Sufi and Shaiva imagery in his texts. I argue, through textual analysis of select verses, that this synthesized literary universe highlights the culmination of centuries of intellectual inter-penetration in Kashmir. This paper traces the direct influence of earlier medieval and early modern Kashmiri poets, such as Sayyid Ali Hamadani, Nur al-Din Wali, and Lalleshwari on the work of Shamas Faqir. This paper will offer new perspectives for considering the particular elements which informed the development of modern Kashmiri devotional literature.

Shankar Nair, University of Virginia
Muslim Dreams in Sanskrit and Greek: Encountering the Pre-Modern Other through Islamic Notions of the Imagination

Islamic civilization has often acquired knowledge through its various encounters with other world civilizations. Perhaps the most famous of these encounters was the 8th-10th-century Greco-Arabic “translation movement,” wherein ‘Abbāsid caliphs facilitated the translation of the corpus of Greek philosophical and scientific learning into Arabic. Another voluminous, though less studied, knowledge-exchange took place in early modern South Asia, where the Mughal Empire similarly patronized the translation of a great body of Hindu Sanskrit works into Persian. This paper analyzes these two translation movements comparatively, focusing on one striking contrast: the Greco-Arabic context translated a large body of technical philosophical material, but almost no literature whatsoever; the Sanskrit-Persian context, in contrast, translated a large volume of literature, but nearly no technical philosophical materials. To begin to explain this contrast, I isolate one insight in particular: the varying conceptualizations of the role and function of the “imagination” (khayāl) according to Muslim thinkers in the two contexts.

Ryan Brizendine, Yale University
Rasa and Rapture: The Influence of Indian Literary Aesthetics on Sufi Practice in South Asia

In the South Asian form of samāʿ or poetic “audition” as Sufi practice, a unique confluence takes place between two originally distinct concepts, both referring to an extaordinary-natured experience of “tasting”: dhawq in Arabic (Pers. ẕawq) and rasa in Sanskrit. Despite these terms serving, natively, as pivotal elements in complex religio-aesthetic psychologies that are as linguistically and historically distinct as they are philosophically sophisticated, their convergence in South Asia appears to suggest a deeper than merely terminological congruence. This paper asks, to what extent and in what ways has Indian poetics informed and influenced South Asian Sufi practice? Following brief but concentrated synopses, first, of the classical trajectories of dhawq and rasa and, second, of the most relevant insights offered by current scholarship, it examines three separate but interrelated “sites of synthesis”: the theory of samāʿ as explicated in Arabic and Persian, the Hindavī Sufi masnavīs, and Urdu qawwālī treatises.

Karen Ruffle, University of Toronto