2012 Postdoctoral Fellowship for Transregional Research: Inter-Asian Contexts and Connections
Assistant Professor, History, University of Cincinnati
Asia in the Age of the Typewriter: Language, Gender, Power and the Mechanization of Writing
[ project summary ]
The age of the typewriter was bounded by the age of handwriting and the age of the computer. It lasted approximately one century, from the first commercially successful Remington model in 1878 to the advent of the personal computer in the 1980s. Yet while the typewriter caused a revolution in the speed and efficiency of writing in the Western world, it had considerable difficulty adapting to non-Latin scripts. While typewriters for languages using the Latin script usually required less than 30 characters, those for Arabic (which uses multiple forms of each letter) required more than 60 characters, and those for Japanese (which includes thousands of Chinese ideograms) required more than 3000 characters. The impracticality of adapting such large, and in other ways unwieldy, character sets to the typewriter leads to the question: why was the typewriter so successful outside of the world of Latin characters and, more broadly, what can this tell us about the relationship between technology, language, and the aesthetics of writing?
My research seeks to answer this question through a study of the typewriter as it was used in government bureaucracies, corporate enterprises, and private spaces. To understand the role of the typewriter in government bureaucracies, one chapter draws on the comparison of edicts signed by heads of state of Lebanon, Turkey, and Japan shortly after the invention of the Arabic, Ottoman, and Japanese typewriters. While these three societies began to type edicts within a few years of each other, their reasons for doing so were very different. In Lebanon under the French mandate, French was the language of government. But when in 1926 a new constitution was drafted, Arabic became the second official language of the state. The Arabic typewriter served to create a visual equivalence between typed French documents and their Arabic equivalents. In the case of Lebanon, the typewriter helped inscribe a new visual regime that marshaled the aesthetics of writing to usher in the language policy of a postcolonial Lebanese state.
While neither Turkey nor Japan was under colonial rule like Lebanon, both existed in a global context marked by Western expansion. On November 3, 1928, the Turkish Republic abandoned the modified Arabic alphabet used to write Ottoman Turkish and adopted Latin characters. Although much has been written about the Turkish alphabet reform, it has rarely, if ever, been noticed that at the highest levels of the state, the alphabet reform came with the typewriter. Despite the availability of Ottoman typewriters that used the modified Arabic alphabet, edicts in Ottoman Turkish were never typed, even when signed by the president of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In contrast, almost all edicts in modern Turkish edicts were typed. The typewriter helped emphasize the discontinuity between the Ottoman past and the Turkish present, making the discourse of a new Turkish modernity visible, literally, in the letter of the law.
If in Lebanon and Turkey edicts became typewritten, in Japan most edicts from 1923 to the end of the Second World War consisted of both handwritten and typewritten sections. The first three pages were handwritten and contained a short ceremonial proclamation of the edict by the emperor, the emperor’s signature and his ceremonial stamp, the date, and the titles and signatures of the prime minister and any other relevant cabinet ministers. The rest of the document contained the detail of the edict and was typed. In this case, the typewriter was part of a collage that combined the typewritten text, a symbol of European modernity, with a calligraphed text that reinvented East Asian symbols of governance and sovereignty.
In all three cases, the typewriter became an element in the epigraphic regime of the government documents of each of these three societies. The raison d’être of these regimes was not functional efficiency but the creation of new political orders, whether they be a quest for a postcolonial norm, part of a discourse of modernity, or a hybrid model of imperial governance. Although the research that I have described here focuses on government documents, other parts of this project focus on the visual regime of corporate enterprises and private correspondence. In all cases, this research uses the epigraphic study of public, corporate, or private documents to study the visual manifestation of social systems on a global comparative scale.
Assistant Professor, Anthropology and Social Studies, Harvard University
Mobility, Authority, and Buddhist Learning in Postsocialist Eurasia
[ project summary ]
I pursued two specific objectives during the tenure of the fellowship. First, I finished, revised, and obtained a publishing contract with the University of Chicago Press for a book manuscript based on my dissertation research on North-South Asian connections through emerging post-Soviet networks of Buddhist learning. The book focuses on the transformations in networks of religious learning, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Russia’s Mongolian people known as Buryats started traveling to India and enrolling in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries there while their post-Soviet semi-autonomous republic of Buryatia became a new field for the missionary activities of Tibetan lamas in exile.
The book covers the previously unstudied topic of post-Soviet Buryat Buddhists transnational religious connections with Tibetan Buddhists across Asia, specifically Tibetan Buddhists in India. The collapse of the Soviet Union redefined religious geographies and imaginaries in Eurasia. However, while networks of Islamic learning in post-Soviet Central Asia are widely studied, new networks of Buddhist learning connecting North and South Asia remain relatively obscure to the scholarly investigators and broader audiences. As an anthropologist, I bring an in-depth first-hand ethnographic knowledge and understanding of these networks, complemented by archival research and policy analysis. My research provides an occasion to reassess the larger impacts of certain Cold War closures, new nationalisms, and postsocialist mobilities, as I demonstrate that these emerging inter-Asian connections contribute to the ongoing reorganization of world religions caused by the end of socialism, in effect by recentering world Buddhism.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s 2000 National Security Policy contained pointed references to the “transnational” element in religion. The preservation of national security called for counteracting the negative influence of foreign religious organizations and missions. This rhetoric mostly applied to “foreign” Christianities and “fundamentalist” Islamic currents. Buddhism, however, counting nearly one million adherents among the Mongolian and Turkic peoples in the sensitive Russian border regions, has been somewhat under the radar because of its perceived pacifist orientation, its confusion with syncretic shamanic traditions of Siberia’s native peoples, and simply because so much less is known about it among non-practitioners and in the scholarly community. Yet, Buddhism in northern Eurasia, as most religions everywhere, has always been transnational in orientation. It is only recently, however, that transnational Buddhist networks and Buryats’ growing allegiances to the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, became a cause of concern. While gaining prominence in Eurasian religious politics, the transnational practices themselves, such as pilgrimages and monastic training in India, have never been studied ethnographically over the longue durée. In my book, I hypothesize that this Buddhist transnationalism is a harbinger for new cultural, political and ultimately economic orientations to a future Eurasia where these kinds of ancient pathways will be instrumental in building new alliances.
Second, I developed an undergraduate survey course, which reconceptualized Asia as a dynamic and interconnected formation. This course will deepen our understanding of North Asia by focusing on the interaction of culture, religion, and politics, which shaped this transnational region over the long twentieth century. A significant portion of the course is devoted to North-South Asian connections that I focus on in my book. This course, which covers Siberia, Mongolia, and Northern China—all areas traditionally taught in separate university departments—will be the first course covering this underrepresented region as a dynamic historical and geographic formation taught at a North American University.
Song Pae (John) Cho
Postdoctoral Fellow, The Center for Korean Studies, University of California-Berkeley
Critical Intimacies: Queer Movements and Trans-Asian Imaginaries in Taiwan and South Korea
[ project summary ]
This project examines the rise of vigorous new LGBT movements in Asia that mimic and seemingly reproduce Euro-American models of identity, sexuality, and citizenship. Defying the thesis of queer globalization as Westernization, the formation of a common queer regional imaginary is taking place in tandem with the rise of certain Asian states as economic and technological powers.
Despite the seeming convergence of global flows in Queer Asia, however, local differences between Asian nations remain and flourish. Nowhere are these local differences more apparent than between Taiwan and South Korea. LGBT movements emerged in both countries after the end of martial law in Taiwan in 1987 and democratization in South Korea in 1988. Yet, following the Asian financial crisis in 1997, while the Korean gay and lesbian movement has all but crumbled under the renewed assault of the “family as nation” rhetoric of the Korean state, the Taiwanese gay and lesbian movement has continued to flourish, earning it the reputation as one of the most vibrant and radical gay and lesbian movements in the Asian-Pacific region. What accounts for the differences between these two cultures?
In order to address this question, this project compared and contrasted the histories, goals/aspirations, and political strategies of the two countries’ most representative LGBT organizations: Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association (“Hotline”) and the Korean Sexual Rights Minority Culture and Rights Center (KSCRC). Founded in the late 1990s, both Hotline and KSCRC have come up with creative strategies to resist the heteronormative Asian nation-states based on the metonym of the heterosexual family. However, while Hotline has grown into one of the most successful organizations in Taiwanese civil society with an annual budget of over $300,000 and more than 250 active volunteers, KSCRC is still struggling with an unstable funding base and only a handful of volunteers. Further imperiling the modest gains of Korean LGBTs has been the rapid rise of the Christian Right, against which the LGBT movement in South Korea has been going head-to-head in recent years.
Despite these similarities and differences, this project argues that queer movements in Taiwan and South Korea can best be understand within the broader context of what Petrius Liu (2007) has termed, “new Asian liberalism.” The democratization of the two countries in the late-1980s has created social environments that are seemingly more liberal and tolerant of sexual and gender differences. But underneath surface liberal reforms are the continued material and affective investments of the two countries in the reproduction of the heteronormative family and, by extension, the nation. Such investments not only demand that queers act “virtually normal” in order to be accepted but also make recent advancements in their social status highly contested and always precarious.
Finally, in comparing and contrasting the new LGBT movements in Taiwan and South Korea, this project proposes “critical intimacies” as an important new framework of resistance. As opposed to new Asian liberalism, which views the improvement in the lives of certain LGBT groups in Asia as a natural unfolding of democracy and historical progress (Liu 2007), critical intimacies highlights the ways in which queer sexuality is imbricated in the larger reproduction of the nation-state and, in being thus imbricated, provides crucial opportunities to resist the normalizing impulses of post-authoritarian Asian nation-states.
Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, Pennsylvania State University
Modernity, Translation, and the Literatures of Revolution
[ project summary ]
Modernity, Translation, and the Literatures of Revolution is devoted to comparative literary exchange between Ottoman and Russian Muslim intellectuals during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time of clashing Russian, British, and Ottoman imperial interests in Asia and of regional constitutional and socialist revolutions (1905 and 1917 in Russia, 1906 in Iran, 1908 in the Ottoman Empire). The Ottoman state initiated a range of modernization projects and programs for its own protection and reinforcement during the nineteenth century, as the empire was gradually and peripherally integrated into the economic and political sphere of global capitalist modernity. In this context, the importance of what social historians of the Ottoman Empire have characterized as a “communications revolution” cannot be underestimated. What, following Şerif Mardin and Carter Findley, I am calling a “communications revolution” describes a massive expansion of print culture and translation activity in the vernaculars of the Ottoman Empire. With the publication of the newspapers Ekinci in Baku in 1875 and Terjüman (“Interpreter”) in the Crimean city of Bahçesaray in 1883, classical Islamic language hierarchies among Turkic-speaking Muslim communities of the Russian Empire began to break down, freeing what was previously considered the “vulgar” Turkic element in relation to the “cultivated” languages of the literati, Arabic and Persian. Although scholars of Ottoman history recognize the writings of such Russian Muslim Turkic émigré intellectuals as Yusuf Akçura, Ahmed Ağaoğlu, and Hüseyinzade Ali as crucial sources of Turkish nationalist thought, there exists no comprehensive comparative study of literary exchange between Ottoman Turkish and Turkic-speaking Russian Muslim intellectuals. I will suggest that the formation of Ottoman Turkish and Russian Muslim reading publics cannot be understood independently of the literary and translational exchanges that shaped them. My goal in Modernity, Translation, and the Literatures of Revolution is a sustained examination of transimperial Ottoman and Russian Muslim literary exchange. In analyses of the novels and plays circulating through this literary network, I will attempt to explain how an Ottoman and Russian Muslim transimperial reading public “discovered” a shared “Turkic” identity held in common, and at the same time began to divide on the basis of vernacular difference.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the study of the Turkic languages and literatures of the ex-Soviet Muslim states assumed renewed importance in Turkey itself, though such interest has for the most part been guided by an assimilationist pan-Turkist intellectual agenda blind to the legacy of Russian and Soviet imperial histories on the Turkic-speaking peoples of the new postcolonial states. In the United States, meanwhile, scholars in Russian and Soviet studies have embraced what Mark von Hagen has described the new “anti-paradigm of Eurasia” against hierarchical, binary models of past scholarship that either “Orientalized” Russian history in relation to Europe, or “normalized” it through assimilation to modernization. Such a new “anti-paradigm” can only be realized if the Russian Muslim imperial culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is studied in a critical-comparative framework along with that of Ottoman Turkish print culture. Modernity, Translation, and the Literatures of Revolution aims to contribute to a pluralized and internally diverse understanding of Asia through a focus on inter-Asian literary flows that exceed conventional national and area studies boundaries. It also seeks to contribute something new to a postcolonial studies that too rarely escapes the referential frame of western European imperial history.
Associate Professor, Fine Arts, Brandeis University
Inter-Asian Strategies of (anti)Colonialism: Parsi Patronage of Persian Architecture in British India and Beyond
[ project summary ]
When Manekji Limji Hataria (1813-90) landed in Bushehr on the Persian Gulf in April 1854, contact between the Parsis of India and their co-religious Zoroastrians in Qajar Iran had been few and sporadic since the fall of the Sassanian Empire in 651. He had been sent to Iran by the Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia (known in Iran as anjoman-e akaber-e saheban) founded by affluent Parsi philanthropists based in Bombay. Hataria’s assignment was sizeable: the improvement of the legal, infrastructural, and sociopolitical conditions of Irani Zoroastrians, numbering to 7,000 souls. An experienced diplomat and philanthropist, his forty-year efforts, supported by steady Parsi money and British diplomatic protection, proved pivotal not only to the progress of his adopted community, but to the whole of Iran’s reform program in the late 19th and early 20th century. Architecture, a major sphere of Parsi patronage, was a significant aspect of this cross-Asian encounter.
Through a close examination of the artistic discourses and architectural practices in India by wealthy Parsis, in Iran by reformists Shi’a nobilities, and in the Caucasus by the intelligentsia, this study aims to reveal how the culture of “Oriental Aryans” was utilized as at once a form of anti-European political stance and an inter-Asian solidarity and network. In advocating and practicing the so-called Persian Style from one end of the Asia to the other, these elite groupings, invented their own version of being Asian and belonging to a cross-pollinated notion of universal/global culture. This study, thus, focuses on specific groups and individuals who found themselves in the ambivalent condition of colonial in-between-ness through the workings of high art as a form of universal distinctiveness and self-reinvention; an Asian self that was neither this nor that (or more often, this and that), but rather an early version of multicultural hybridity and cosmopolitanism of the local other. Individual patrons, who thus impacted Indo-Persian arts and politics, operated from a range of marginal identities and thus forced to redefine the norms of such rubrics of identity and power formation.
Furthermore, the local appropriation of Western theories to resist cultural colonialism was not unique to the Iranian, the Caucasian, and the Indian elite. Before being colonized by their own nationalism, these groups were challenging their European counterparts in the principle of post-Enlightenment imperialism: rhetoric on universalism, globalism, and an expansionism of high culture. The eclectic architecture and historiography that they invented were, therefore, conceptions envisioned beyond the specificities of place and time, an architecture of the global that was produced one century before today’s rhetoric on multiculturalism and globalization. It was universalistic because it claimed as its own the tropes of those civilizations that its patrons perceived as worthy, beyond geopolitical and chronological categories imposed by Western historiography. It was anticolonial because it masterfully engaged the idiom of European imperialism against Europe’s cultural expansion. By deploying and hence destabilizing Western intellectual discourses, these intelligentsias invented their own version of the global by going back to specific art historical localities. It was universalistic, anticolonial, and modern precisely because it placed itself at the center of epistemological discourses.
Assistant Professor, Religion, Duke University
Longing for the Lost Caliphate: Religious Imaginaries of State and Community among Premodern and Modern Muslims
[ project summary ]
At the intersection of global and cultural history, this project explores Muslim engagement and entanglement with the notion of an Islamic caliphate following two poignant moments of symbolic loss: the Mongol destruction of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258 and the Turkish nationalist abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924. It examines what Muslims across Afro-Eurasia imagined to be lost with the disappearance of the Abbasid and Ottoman caliphates and how they attempted to recapture that perceived loss, and in doing so redefined the caliphate for their times, under shifting circumstances. Vivid collective memories of the caliphate created a shared sense of community among disparate peoples at the same time as they gave rise to differing and competing visions of the community’s past, present, and future. The project, therefore, explores what gave meaning to the caliphate to diverse groups of Muslims through the comparative analytical lens of these two poignant moments of loss in the thirteenth and twentieth centuries. Through extensive primary research, it explores the rich constellation of meanings and interpretations created by religious scholars, historians, musicians, statesmen, poets, and intellectuals in the premodern and modern eras. In doing so, this study fills a scholarly lacuna regarding Muslim reactions to the Abbasid caliphate's disappearance in 1258, disrupts speculative assumptions that the institution’s functional decrepitude belied premodern Muslims’ emotional connections to its symbolism, and revises the notion that its demise also signaled an end to Islamic political jurisprudential creativity. Putting the experiences of premodern and modern Muslims in conversation with one another highlights commonalities as well as essential differences and elucidates how modern Muslims have creatively interpreted and reinterpreted their heritage. Moreover, this fascinating intertwining of faith, community, and politics draws our attention to parallel experiences of other religious communities amid poignant moments of symbolic loss and reconstruction (like the destruction of the Second Temple & the falls of Rome) and the renegotiation of transregional religious identities and institutions (like the rearticulation of the papacy & the emergence of other pan-religious movements). The fascinating circulation of ideas, cultural sensibilities, and debates regarding the dilemma of caliphal absence highlights the vivacity of transregional social and intellectual networks among Muslims in the premodern and modern eras.
Assistant Professor, Political Science, University of Chicago
Circulations of Law in the Indian Ocean: Research and Collaborations
[ project summary ]
The research and scholarly collaboration components of this project have been animated by the same questions: how does law travel? With what carriers, commodities and interests does it move? How was the law packaged for export, how was it translated and domesticated? What further journeys does the law undertake upon its arrival? The research began with a point of intersection of law: the adoption of Southeast Asia’s first constitution and the Ottoman civil code (Medjelle), in the state of Johor, at the end of the nineteenth century. Circulations of Law began with this key moment in Malaya to trace trajectories of law that criss-crossed the Indian Ocean, linking London and Constantinople to ports and cities across Asia, from Cairo to Singapore. Tracing these circuits of law through news, entertainment and commerce, courts and diplomacy, this projects maps out a global theatre of law conditioned by imperial politics.
Rulers such as Abu Bakar of Johor found themselves balancing a complex array of constituencies and audiences at the end of the nineteenth century, at home and abroad, and used a wide range of repertoires in order to signal their legitimacy and consolidate their authority. Abu Bakar traced an itinerary through Japan, Siam, Europe and England, and the Ottoman Empire, and rulers saw in each others’ experiences ways of staving of internal and imperial challenges. Laws such as the Medjelle and Constitution were translated into local languages and institutional hierarchies according to different logics and chronologies. Law’s spatial trans-locations were accompanied by its political and administrative transformations, and in this transformation the ability of law to speak in many voices and languages, to many audiences, was a critical component of its mobility.
This project also included a scholarly collaboration component, bringing ten senior and junior scholars in multiple fields together to present new work on how law travels, and building a framework for future publication and research. This collaboration has made clear how important it will continue to be to think across regions, empires and periods as we trace law’s varied itineraries. Closer examination of InterAsian networks of law, the agents who carry and localise it, and the local conditions of its translation and transformation, yields new analytic possibilities for understanding how law travels, and contributes new data to lively debates in the areas of comparative legal history, comparative law and legal diffusion/transplant, jurisdiction and the politics of law.
Visiting Lecturer, Near Eastern Studies, University of California-Berkeley
Beyond State Borders: Transregional Poetics of Space in Farsizabon Film
[ project summary ]
Beyond State Borders: Transregional Poetics of Space in Farsizabon Film questions how globalization operates through various extraterritorial processes. It re-conceptualizes Persian-speaking regions of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan by tracing a transregional artistic flow within a dynamic and linguistically interconnected formation. Furthermore, it investigates the new realities of strategic alliances and interests within the Persian world in the context of the broader global cultural and historical framework of Asia. This research argues, that while communication technology extended local discourses on space and time from local to global farsizabon space, the existence and presence of these discourses is not new or recent.
The Inter-Persian visual discourse, which cultural producers of Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan established over the course of the last fifteen years, has a dual nature. On the one hand it follows the ‘denationalizing’ logic of globalization demonstrating dissatisfaction with nationalization’ and ‘re-nationalization’ of political space. On the other, it responds to and thus incorporates the Persianate discourse on space and time that is based on the epistemological traditions of the pre-modern era. In this respect, communication technology allowed Persianate cultural producers to 1) become more aware of each other and 2) begin to influence each other artistically, thus entering a larger discourse of time and space.
The critical assessment of ‘re-nationalization’ of immigration policies as opposed to the ‘denationalizing’ logic of globalization is at the core of the inter-Persian discourse on space. Another central theme explored by Inter-Persian filmmakers is the redefinition of space through linguistic flows across and beyond the Persian world. By focusing on space through language, cultural producers establish new farsizabon historical trajectories. Contemporary national and religious narratives in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, while varying in terms of heroic figures, historical events, and range of ‘Others’, present similar stories of the past. As the number of farsizabon cultural producers and audiences inevitably grow with the spread of communication technologies, the notion of geographic space may continue to change creating new forms of solidarity.
Transregional processes of this kind across the Persian-speaking world have not been researched, owing primarily to the disciplinary constraints of area studies. Geographic constraints set by established regional classifications such as the Middle East, the Arab World, Central Asia, and the former Soviet Union often limit the range of questions that can be raised about the populations of these Persian-speaking areas. This research cuts across established classifications in academic subfields by demonstrating the conceptual and artistic fluidity of the Persian-speaking world.
Senior Lecturer, Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
Networks beyond Empires: Chinese Business and Nationalist Activities in the Hong Kong-Singapore Corridor, 1914-1941
[ project summary ]
This project weaves the history of Chinese nationalism with the research of overseas Chinese business networks. Given that most Chinese nationalist leaders in British colonial Hong Kong and Singapore were bourgeoisie (compradors, bankers, import-export traders and industrialists), I investigate the changes of the bourgeoisie’ embedded business environment between 1914 and 1941: How did the demise of the British free-trade imperialism and the rise of Japanese power in the South China-Southeast Asian region affect the operation of Chinese bourgeois nationalism?
Before the British eastward expansion in the nineteenth century, migration, commerce, and cultural exchanges in the region had made it a world-economy in the sense of Fernand Braudel. Among the Chinese seaborne traders, the Hokkien from southern Fujian constituted the most active business network, followed by the Teochew from eastern Guangdong and the Cantonese from central Guangdong. In the nineteenth century, the British colonial regime in Singapore granted exclusive economic rights to the Hokkien and Teochew, while the government in Hong Kong patronized the Cantonese business elites. The British strategy worked. These Chinese bourgeois elites did not join the Chinese anti-British movements that stormed South China in the 1920s.
In the 1910s, when Japan began to systemically expand its business overseas, the Cantonese had dominated the export of Japanese goods and their circulation in Southeast Asia. To circumvent the Cantonese networks, Japan employed the Taiwanese, the majority of them Hokkien and were Japanese colonial subjects, to plug into the Hokkien networks in Southeast Asia. In the late 1920s, when the Hokkien and Teochew bourgeoisie in Singapore identified the Japanese expansion as a threat to their business, they organized anti-Japanese boycotts that targeted Taiwanese and Cantonese business of Japanese goods. In the Cantonese-predominant Hong Kong, the bourgeoisie organized “buying Chinese” product movements to promote the trade of Chinese goods, some were made of Japanese materials.
Operation of the “buying Chinese” product movements in Hong Kong was in resonance with the Chinese official policies, but the Chinese government refused to certify the merchandizes produced by overseas Chinese factories as Chinese national goods. The government’s control over China’s export trade after the mid-1930s also devastated the Hokkien’s business. The Hokkien’s anti-Japanese agenda thus gradually transgressed the boundaries set up by the Chinese Nationalist Government.
G, William Skinner has exposited the correlation between parochial homeland ties and economic division of labor among Chinese sojourning merchants. I further point out that the diverse economic interests could develop into different political dispositions, which eroded the Chinese nationalist solidarity. This research finding echoes Wang Gungwu’s thesis of the “limit of South Seas Chinese nationalism.” By examining the diverse ways each Chinese business networks were articulated with the global and regional economy, I however argue that the “limit” in nationalism manifested the emergence of overseas Chinese autonomy. In the decades of high Chinese nationalism, overseas Chinese bourgeoisie remained committed to their business networks. They were operated through negotiation with different imperialist or nationalist powers, and by sustaining their flexible inter-Asian connections along primordial and parochial homeland ties.
Assistant Professor, History, University of California-San Diego
Homeownership for all: housing crises and the politics of international aid post-1945
[ project summary ]
Cities around the world struggled with devastating housing loss and rapid urbanization after 1945. In China, Korea, the Philippines, and Malaya, shelter crises were made even more complex by political upheaval, the mass migration of peoples, and ongoing military engagement. Homeownership for All examines the role of international housing aid givers in responding to these crises and nurturing a new global ideal: through organizations like the UN Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance, the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning, the Housing and Home Finance Agency (HHFA), and the International Labour Office, expert advisers urged states to give families a literal stake in the nation. The nation with more homeowners could raise savings rates, provide development capital, and jumpstart industrial growth; rapid economic development would lead to an overall rise in the standard of living and a more quiescent population.
How did vastly different nations with varied populaces come to debate mass homeownership at this exact historical moment? And why did Asian countries become so important to this international debate? There are two key reasons for the centrality of Asia in a globalizing homeownership ideal after 1945: first, American advisers dominated international aid agencies both in funding and in political leadership. As a result, American constructions of “Asian” vulnerability and crisis drove disproportionate aid money and resources to key Cold War targets like Taiwanese ports, the South Korean capital, and regional trading hubs like Singapore. The earliest and most influential experiments with various forms of homeownership and international housing assistance took place in locations with broader geopolitical significance to the US.
Second, debates about improved housing centered on questions of mass homeownership after World War II because Americans insisted their newly inaugurated, domestic programs of deposit insurance, mortgage insurance, government-backed secondary mortgage markets, and private bank lending programs set the terms for mass homeownership in any modern economy; this ideal could be reached by even the youngest capitalist economies through intermediary steps like aided self-help ownership and institutionalized savings programs. As such, aid recipients had to contemplate – if not implement – US-style mass homeownership.
This was no small exchange of housing ideas and plans. What had been a trickle of traveling engineers, urban planners, and housing experts during the early twentieth century became a flood after 1945, when transnational crossings took on numerical and institutional heft. By the mid-1950s, roughly 1,500 American experts provided on-the-ground technical assistance in South and Southeast Asia alone. In addition, at least three times that number of South and Southeast Asian students trained in the US by 1958. American experts traveled, observed, and advised on such diverse topics as town planning, housing, transportation, savings and loan programs, family planning, and estate management not only in South and Southeast Asia but also in Taiwan, South Korea, and eventually, in Kenya, Nigeria, and Jamaica, Israel, Iran, Peru, and Mexico, to name a few. As these itinerant experts traveled and worked in the field, they helped build new networks and connections between Asian housing policymakers and their counterparts in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.
The creation of networks did not mean Asian countries wholly embraced all outside advice, however, nor did it stimulate a coherent “Asian” response to these overtures. In fact, the construction of an “Asian” housing crisis was itself a by-product of European and American prejudice, partial information, and Cold War expediency. In prioritizing the Asian housing crisis above all others, American housing experts clearly relied on faulty data and circumstantial evidence; in the process, however, they also ensured Asian participation in a global debate about modernizing housing and ideal tenure type – participation that they eventually found hard to control, as individual governments and personalities took control of actual policies and implementation in various Asian contexts.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Hawke Research Institute, University of South Australia
Making Subjects, Making Worlds: Islam, Revolution and Planetary Solidarities
[ project summary ]
My project will analyse the creation and deployment of globalist revolutionary imaginaries and planetary anti-colonialisms in Malaya in its translocal and transnational contexts. The project consists of two parts. The first part is a book project, based on my PhD thesis, which analysed the irruption of a planetary Muslim political subjectivity in a 1928 forest uprising against British-led land and
forest reforms in the Malay Peninsula’s eastern hinterland. The uprising’s audacious Islamist politics were enabled by circuits of intellectual exchange between Malaya and the Middle East, and rebels even used the flag of the Ottoman Caliphate as their symbol of struggle. The second part consists of a program of new research, this time on Malay Muslim Maoists who waged an armed struggle against British and post-1957 Malaysian armed forces. This new movement was located in the same forested hinterland as its predecessor, but it deployed new notions of revolutionary internationalism to emplace Malaya within new global solidarities then in the making. Notions of the Muslim world were now melded with those of a Maoist constellation of revolutionary struggles, and enabled by solidarity with Palestine and Afghanistan alongside cultural and intellectual exchanges with fellow guerrilla leaders in China and India.
A. Azfar Moin
Assistant Professor, History, Southern Methodist University
War in the Age of Saints: The Politics of Shrine Desecration in Early Modern India, Iran, and Central Asia
[ project summary ]
Why and to what extent did Muslim armies destroy Hindu temples in pre-Modern India? For nearly a century this issue has inflamed Hindu nationalist passions, stoked Muslim nationalist pride, and presented scholars of South Asia with a vexed set of questions about history, memory, and trauma. On one side is the position that we must distinguish rhetoric from action and not take every boast of iconoclasm made in the Indo-Persian sources at face value. Such an approach emphasizes performance—what was being done rather than what was being said—to develop an embedded, immersive sense of what happened. Conversely, there is the empirical observation that in the aftermath of the Turkish conquests of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the size and number of temples saw a decline, especially in urban north India, as Turkic courts replaced Hindu dynasties that had patronized temples. Thus we end up with two analytical emphases, one that looks for acts of accommodation and downplays the triumphant rhetoric in Indo-Persian chronicles, and the other that gives voice to those who lost when various “Hindu” political forms had to make room for “Muslim” ones. In this SSRC-funded project, I expanded the scope of inquiry transregionally and transculturally. It involved a twofold shift in perspective. First, instead of treating Turkic and Persian peoples coming into South Asia from the eleventh to the eighteenth centuries as a relatively uniform cultural group, that is, as Muslims with fixed notions of iconoclasm or cultural accommodation, I asked how these communities and concepts changed over the centuries. Second, rather than imagine these inward bound groups only as makers of South Asian history and perpetrators of traumatic change, I also treated them as objects of history shaped by similarly disruptive developments in Iran and Central Asia. Such a perspective yielded a third and distinct emphasis, which, by relocating the problematic outside the emotionally charged imaginaries of today, refocuses the questions along interAsian contexts. Consider, for instance, that when in the early eleventh century Mahmud of Ghazni began his raids from Afghanistan across the river Indus, he had no patron saints. He did not seek blessings for his martial endeavors from an enshrined holy man. By contrast, in the early sixteenth century when the Timurid ruler Babur began similar raids from his base in Kabul, he was allied with the major Sufi orders of his region whose saint shrines he had visited and whose blessings he received in his dreams of conquest. Furthermore, on his way to India Babur had demolished the Sufi shrine of two Afghan tribes as punishment for armed resistance, and that he had seen the shrines of his own patron saints destroyed by imperial rivals from Iran. Indeed, we may say that he learned the martial tactic of “temple destruction” well before coming to India. But, then, such experiences may have also prepared Muslims like him to patronize Hindu temples, and to see them as sacred loci of power like the domed sepulchers of saints.
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Art History and Institute for Advanced Study, University of Minnesota
Assistant Professor, Presidency University, Kolkata, India
Secular Heritage Sacred Reclamations: Archaeology, Buddhist Revival and Circulation of Relics in South and Southeast Asia
[ project summary ]
Connections between notions of heritage, corporeality, and religious practices as key constitutive elements of modern South and Southeast Asian public spheres inform the central problematic of this research. The study, in particular, looks at the fraught interfaces between secularization of archaeological heritage and reform and revival of Theravada Buddhism, specifically with reference to ways of framing and representing dead bodies and body parts. The material focus of this study is a particular corpus of objects – Buddhist corporeal relics. This focus on dead bodies and body parts as primary agents of the study allows me to question the binaries between subject and object, human and non human, animate and inanimate, sacred and profane, religious and secular that have dominated questions of agency and authorship in recent scholarship across disciplines of history, anthropology, religious studies, art history, critical archaeology and museum studies.
During the late nineteenth and early and middle decades of the twentieth century, these relics circulated between Europe, South and Southeast Asia – across the present-day states of the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. In response to demands of scholarly scrutiny, and religious and nationalist repatriations, these objects moved back and forth between archaeological sites, museum galleries, exhibition complexes and sanctums of practicing temples and monasteries. Through an exploration of the cultural biographies of these circulating relics across different political, cultural and institutional locations, the research tries to explore how certain objects emerge as valued commodities at different historic junctures. The study seeks to map how Buddhist corporeal relics accrued certain meaning and visibility through a network of social relations created by gift, exchange, market economy, and political diplomacy within the larger political and cultural context constituted by European colonialism, nationalism, decolonization, and post colonial nation state building across South and mainland Southeast Asia.
As a range of competing religious, political, financial, and historic values accrued around these objects, relics came to be housed, claimed and reclaimed across different spaces. Buddhist relics emerged as treasured objects for different actors – colonial administrators, Buddhist sovereigns in mainland Southeast Asia, Buddhist reformist leaders and associations, archaeologists, museum curators, political parties, and even individuals without any apparent religious, political or antiquarian investment in relics. This study explores these different worlds connected by the movement of relics - the official and scholarly domains of specialized archaeological and textual scholarship on Buddhism, the institutions of archaeology and museums, the regime of legal enactments asserting states’ control over monuments and antiquities in the colonies, Buddhist kingdoms in mainland Southeast Asia, Theravada Buddhist monastic orders in Ceylon, Burma, and Siam, Buddhist reformist and revivalist associations, and the world of religious and nationalist repatriations.
This study takes its beginning point during the closing decades of the nineteenth and opening years of the twentieth century. Across sites in South Asia archaeologists identified and excavated a number of Buddhist funerary mounds (stupas) which led to the unearthing of Buddhist corporeal relics deposited in ancient reliquaries. The inscriptions on the reliquaries were decoded by scholars identifying the relics as corporeal remains of either the historical Buddha or of prominent ancient Buddhist monks. On each occasion the British colonial state in South Asia distributed these relics to various Buddhist countries, communities and Buddhist revivalist associations across South and mainland Southeast Asia.
The relics unearthed in 1898 from the site of Pirawah Kot (presently in eastern India near the border of Nepal) were presented by the Government of India to the King of Siam which he in turn distributed among the Buddhists Burma, Ceylon, and Japan. In 1910, the Shah-ji-ki Dheri relics were presented to the Buddhists of Burma to be enshrined at a new relic temple in the city of Mandalay (in upper Burma). In 1921, Buddhist relics unearthed from the site of Bhattiprolu, at the close of the nineteenth century and later preserved in the Government Museum in the city of Madras (in southern India), were presented by the colonial state to a prominent neo Buddhist association – the Maha Bodhi Society – for ritual enshrinement in the Society’s new Buddhist Temple in the city of Calcutta. A decade later, in 1932, the Government again presented the Society Buddhist relics, discovered by the Archaeological Survey from sites in and around Taxila (presently in the Rawalpindi district of the province of Punjab in Pakistan) for enshrinement in the Society’s new Buddhist temple at Sarnath (in northern India, near the pilgrimage city of Benares). On each occasion the old reliquaries, which housed the corporeal remains at the moments of their discovery, were retained in museums as objects of art, history, and antiquity. The bare bones were classified as purely sacred objects, having no historic value, and were given away for ritual enshrinements in new relic caskets especially designed for these occasions by the colonial Archaeological Survey.
This study begins by exploring why and how this classification of bones as essentially sacred and the ancient reliquaries housing them as objects of art and history was produced. Why did the relics and the reliquaries travel to different destinations? Whom did these relics belong to? And, what did this separation of reliquaries from corporeal remains imply for these Buddhist relics? The study argues that the religious sacrality of the bones and the historic/ antiquarian sanctity of the reliquaries were not predetermined and permanently fixed. While the British colonial state in South Asia or its political and cultural apparatuses – institutions of archaeology and museums – were not the sole determinants in producing meanings around ancient Buddhist corporeal remains, colonial intervention, I argue, produced new values, visibility, and created different objects out of these Buddhist relics.
Certain historic trajectories particular to late nineteenth and early twentieth century South and Southeast Asia – the parallel unfolding of overlapping worlds of Orientalist textual and text-aided archaeological discovery of Buddhism, the emergence of transnational Buddhist revival and reform movements seeking to reshape Buddhism as an rational and humane religion, the consolidation of colonial and postcolonial states’ control over historic heritage, the competing demands of religious reclamation and re-consecration of antiquities, colonial and post colonial states involvement in relic diplomacy, and a specialized epigraphic/ historic authentication of Buddhist relics, amongst others – shaped the journeys of relics and reliquaries. While circulation of Buddhist relics predated European colonialism in South and Southeast Asia, the study shows that both colonial and postcolonial national states produced new networks and protocols of exchange and circulation that lent to the production of different and competing values and meanings around Buddhist corporeal remains.
Over the late nineteenth and early and middle decades of the twentieth century, Buddhist corporeal relics across South and mainland Southeast Asia emerged as major sites for the consolidating and fracturing religious and political identities. As objects connecting dispersed geographical, cultural and political spaces, relics become important sites to explore the genealogies of colonial and postcolonial state formations, and map the roles of state and non state actors in the production and management of historic and religious heritage.
Secondary Literature and Primary Resources
The study responds to a wide body of scholarship, the methodological insights provided by anthropological researches on “cultural biographies” and “social lives” of material objects, constituting a primary referral point for the project. The contention that objects have a social life, that persons and things are not radically distinct categories, and that things are invested with properties of social relations (Appadurai 1986; Appadurai 2006; Lubar and Kingery 1993; Myers 2001; Morgan 2009) is the larger frame within which I situate the particular material objects of this project – corporeal relics, and explore their evaluation processes in the historical contexts of colonial and postcolonial South and mainland Southeast Asia.
The resurrection of objects, artefacts and things as something more than passive recipients of human actions, has kindled a fresh interest in exploring the agency of the non-human and the inanimate in the humanities and social sciences (Latour 1996; Gell 1998; Latour 1999; Latour 2000; Brown 2003; Latour 2004; Brown 2004; Latour and Weibel 2005). These formulations on different modalities of interactions between humans and non-humans, on mediations and crossovers through which they exchange their properties, have inspired scholars to move beyond both positivist descriptions of things and semiotic approaches to reading things as texts, symbols and metaphors. The turn to exploring the socializing functions and performative potentials of things and objects in constituting human identities has lent a new visibility to dead bodies and body parts in recent scholarship on material culture.
My project’s primary focus on corporeal relics comes in response to these theoretical explorations of death, dead bodies, body parts and remains (Chapman and Randsborg 1981; Joyce and Stover 1991; Goodwin and Bronfen 1993; Pearson 1999; Verdery 1999; Crossland 2000; Harrison 2003; Domanska 2005). Engagement with the material potentials of dead bodies, especially with the ambivalent and liminal status of corporeal remains, will allow me to question the boundaries between things, objects and artefacts, and the binaries between human and non-human, animate and inanimate. Finally, I situate the possibility of exploring counter histories produced by corporeal remains and inanimate objects in view of the recent criticism of “biographical approach to things” which argue that the discourse in defense of non-humans ultimately betray a predominantly anthropocentric character of history (Domanska 2006).
The second body of scholarship that this project responds to is constituted by literature on empire, colony, nationalist consciousness and nationalist politics in the context of South and Southeast Asia. Critical literature in this field ranges from anthropological and historical explorations of modalities of colonial power (Cohn 1998; Cooper 2005) to engagement with political and cultural imagination of nations (Anderson 1991). Scholarship on different genealogies of nationalist thought and politics in South Asia (Chatterjee 1986; Chatterjee 1994) and of comparative frames for analyzing colonial and postcolonial nationalisms across Southeast Asia (Anderson 1998) provide important clues for thinking about different orders of nationalist imagination across British, French, Dutch and Japanese colonies in South and Southeast Asia.
Works of particular importance here is the emergent literature on patrimony and heritage that respond both to theoretical and empirical engagements with the politics of the present and the contemporary in which pasts come to be invoked as history (Ali 1999; Chatterjee and Ghosh 2002) and to the burgeoning field of “memory studies” (Nora 1989; Lowenthal 1985; Fentress and Wickham 1992). My research on modern lives of Buddhist corporeal relics directly engages with the field of cultural histories on heritage politics in South and Southeast Asia which place notions of patrimony and practices of archaeology, museums and exhibitions at the centre of debates on colonialism, nationalism and decolonization (Guha-Thakurta 2004; Edwards 2007; Bloembergen 2006; Bloembergen and Eickhoff 2011; Kohl 1998; Ray 2008; Edwards 2006; Edwards 2002; Anderson 1990; Bayly 2004; Clementin-Ojha and Manguin 2001; Glover 2003). An associated field of scholarship, constituted by critical religious studies, anthropological and art-historical engagements with modern biographies of ancient monuments and religious images, comprise an important referral point for this project (Davis 1997; Trevithick 2006; Mathur 2008; Sengupta 2010).
The research also draws on historical, anthropological and sociological scholarship on religion and religious identities in colonial and postcolonial societies substantially. In the particular context of my work, literature specific to Buddhism’s modern histories constitutes an important body of citation. The field is diverse, ranging from texts on the politics of nineteenth and twentieth century Orientalist textual and archaeological discovery of Buddhism under colonialism (Almond 1988; Lopez 1995) to critical works on the configurations of Buddhist modernisms in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Cambodia (Malagoda 1976; Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988; Bond 1988; Frost 2002; Myint-U 2004; Hansen 2007; Blackburn 2010). While the primary focus of this study is Buddhist material culture in South and mainland Southeast Asia, comparative studies that think about connected and differentiated genealogies of imperialism, nationalism and religion, bringing into dialogues major world religions – Buddhism, Islam and Christianity – across Southeast and East Asia, provide important clues for thinking about relics in different political, cultural and institutional contexts (DuBois 2009).
The final body of literature that this project engages with is the burgeoning field of relic studies constituted by scholarship across disciplines of religious studies, art history, archaeology and material culture, history, and social and cultural anthropology. Inspired by researches of social and cultural historians of medieval Christianity (Brown 1981; Geary 1978; Geary 1994), scholars of Buddhism, who have till quite late been primarily occupied with the study of canonical texts and scriptures have begun to explore the social, political and religious functions of relics in the rise, spread and practice of Buddhism both in pre/early modern societies, in European and Japanese colonization, in fractured articulations of nationalist identities, and political and cultural decolonization (Schopen 1997; Trainor 1997; Ruppert 2000; Germano and Trainor 2004; Strong 2004; Schobar 1997; Brekke 2007; Blackburn 2010). Recent critical assessment of the modern scholarly interest in Buddhist relics, has argued that most of the new research has tended to give a purely functionalist account of Buddhist relics and betray the contemporary Western fascination with corporeality and with the image of the macabre (Sharf 1999).
To avoid the potential methodological pitfalls of a purely functionalist account, my study on modern lives of Buddhist corporeal relics and their shifting locations and meanings in colonial and postcolonial societies situates religious relics in South and Southeast Asia within the larger literature around political and ethical concerns with repatriation of human remains (Powell, Garza and Hendricks 1993; Gulliford 1996; O’Sullivan 2001). Finally, though the predominant focus of this research lies with religious relics one of the methodologically innovative ways through which I raise questions around political, cultural and symbolic potentials of dead bodies would be to bring into comparison religious, specifically Buddhist, relics in South and Southeast Asia, into closer dialogues with cults of secular and political relics in Latin America (Gillingham 2005; Knight 2010) and representations of dead bodies and associated objects in Communist societies across the Peoples Republic of China, the erstwhile Soviet Union, and across post communist societies in Eastern Europe (Wakeman 1985; Wagner 1992; Zbarsky and Hutchinson 1998; Yuet Chau 2010).
Locating the research at the intersection of diverse disciplinary approaches, I use my primary training as a historian to critically reflect on archives of material culture, heritage, religion, body, and corporeality in the political context of colonialism, nationalism and decolonization. Given the wide ambit of this research, a variety of resources are consulted ranging from official records—unpublished archival official correspondences and published reports–to private papers and diaries of colonial administrators, monastic and lay Buddhist leaders, and polyglot intellectuals inhabiting different political, cultural, and linguistic locations, records of Buddhist religious establishments, journals and records of research societies, and visual materials such as sketches, lithographs and photographic prints. Some of these materials had been previously accessed during previous researches in archives, libraries and museum collections across India, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands and during my present SSRC supported research residence in the University of Minnesota and my recent field trips to Myanmar and Thailand.
Relics as Sites of Inter Asian Connections
Exploring modern Asian societies as interconnected formations, my research seeks to interrogate the concept of “Inter-Asia” along registers of circulations. To begin with the particular material focus of this research - Buddhist corporeal relics that had essentially circulating careers linking different territories and regions in South and Southeast and East Asia to metropolitan centres and imperial capitals in Europe. The shifting geographical, but also political, cultural and institutional locations, is what lent these objects their dynamic and ever changing meanings. As objects of art and antiquity, historical and archaeological evidence, and sites of religious and political repatriations that connected dispersed geographies and cultural spaces, relics become an important register, both to question the connected and differentiated genealogies of colonialism and decolonization across South, Southeast and East Asia, as well as to study the transnational moral geographies constituted by worlds of scholarship on Buddhism, and Buddhist revivalist movements across Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, and Thailand.
The conscious choice to bring South, Southeast Asia into closer dialogues through studies on cultural flows and knowledge networks is of particular significance both for the research potentials of this project. Despite their apparent geographical proximity, these regions are usually taken to be self contained cultural units. This entire area has been linked by commercial, political, demographic, linguistic and ritual interaction. As a field constituted by competing colonial interests, my study avoids the standard vertical linkages explored between a particular imperial power and its colonial locations. I focus instead on lateral flows between colonized societies. This will accord more active agencies to the colonized population and explore more fruitfully the polyglot locations of native intelligentsia across different political, cultural, religious, linguistic and professional institutions beyond boundaries of single nation states. I see this project as the beginning of my study on histories of inter Asian circulation, particularly circulation of human bodies (both corporeal remains and living bodies) across colonial and post colonial South and Southeast Asia and their changing meanings and identities across different historical, political, cultural, and institutional contexts.
Visiting Scholar, Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures, Columbia University
Memory, Affiliation and Hope: Transnational Narratives and Traveling Teachers - the Asian Uses of the Tibetan Buddhist Past
[ project summary ]
Dr. Pitkin’s book project, “Memory, Affiliation and Hope: Transnational Narratives and Traveling Teachers - the Asian Uses of the Tibetan Buddhist Past” examines Tibetan Buddhist lineages as a form of transnational Asian religious network, and maps how such lineage networks in their historical and contemporary forms highlight the uses of the past as a religious imaginary in Asia. This project explores the connection between nineteenth and early twentieth century Tibetan Buddhist figures, ideas, and events, and the significance of these for present-day communities in the Himalayan region and in surrounding culturally connected parts of Asia, where these individuals and their ideas and activities are re-imagined in new ways for new circumstances. Analyzing dynamics of memory and change in ongoing, multi-century Buddhist intellectual and spiritual lineages linking China, Tibet, India and the Inner Asian region, this research asks how contemporary Tibetan Buddhist religious communities (incorporating multiple ethnic groups) use life stories of virtuoso teacher-figures to address challenges to lineage survival, including traumatic episodes of local conflict, loss and change, and community tragedies like war, violence, and forced migration.
This project examines the aesthetic, moral, and political power of the Tibetan Buddhist past and of Buddhist lineage networks in the present day through the lenses of biography, institutional history, and oral narrative. Recent forms of religious resurgence across the Himalayan region highlight Buddhist lineage networks and the narratives and histories that help sustain them as compelling sites for examining post-secularism, local politics of sacred space, and the role of religion in cultural continuity. Present-day deployments of memories of revered figures of the past and their networks of connection range from evolving oral presentations and personal accounts to multi-volume published biographies, as well as newer multi-media materials such as documentary film recordings, music video, and photo-montage. By giving sustained and careful attention to accounts within these materials of visionary or miraculous experience and of re-appropriations of Buddhist ideals (in particular renunciation, generosity and self-sacrifice) in the representation of Buddhist masters, this research investigates the role of memories of revered figures of the past, and of the networks of relationship they belong to, in both emic as well as etic terms. This book project asks how cultural revival rooted in such religious narratives emerges as a response to state power throughout historically connected regions of Asia.
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Virginia
Market and Monastery: Manangi Trade Diaspora in South and Southeast Asia
[ project summary ]
Market and Monastery: Manangi Trade Diaspora in South and Southeast Asia traces the dispersed but connected economy, religion, and kinship of a diasporic Buddhist trading community scattered across South Asia, the Himalayas, and Southeast Asia, providing evidence for a counter argument to the narrative of the rise of the West that has informed the historiography of trade in Asia and implicitly shaped most classic and contemporary social theories regarding the rise of capitalism. The book that results from this project is based on nearly a decade of ethnographic field research at Manangi diasporic sites in India, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and at the Manangi home communities in Nepal and pioneers a truly transnational methodology for studying globalization and transregional political economy.
While the canonical history of trade in Asia assumes that trade networks of most merchant diasporas have been disrupted, the Manangi trade diaspora has thrived for centuries. Not only have the Manangis traded across the Himalayas, South Asia, and Southeast Asia despite competition from larger Western and Asian traders, but they also have generated sufficient economic surplus to finance grand social and religious projects, including supporting almost a fifth of their male population in monasteries. The central argument of the forthcoming book is that the Manangi trade networks have been sustained across these regions over the span of centuries by two internally related economies: long-distance trade and the conversion of wealth into religious merit. The trade networks thrived because the Manangis were able to seek out and adapt to market niches for which their particular social organization (including communal sharing of knowledge and of risk, the pooling of funds) was more suitable than that of the competitors.
Unlike Weber’s notion of the Protestant ethic, in which capitalism eventually diverged from the religious forces that initially propelled it, in the Manangi community, individuals engage in trade so as to give lavishly to others through social and religious rituals, after which these individual profits become collective savings available to others as loans in the community and, ultimately, always circulate around the monastery. Market and Monastery thus looks at how ideas developed in the sphere of religion can inform practices in the realm of trade, paying attention to how kinship arrangements can shape economic relations as well as religious practices across a large span of space. The book illustrates how all these work together in the flow of lives conducted in diaspora and at home in Nepal.
As this project traces social relations that span across South Asia, the Himalayas, and Southeast Asia and social phenomena that cross traditional regional boundaries, it also makes a significant contribution to regional studies/area studies by challenging its concept of a region as a bounded unit. By illuminating connections between the South Asian subcontinent and the trans-Himalayas as well as Southeast Asia over centuries, it reminds us that transregional linkages are what give shape to what takes place inside a region. For South Asian studies in particular, my book expands the new Indian Ocean scholarship that is revitalizing South Asian studies by connecting it, over land rather than by sea, to Southeast Asia. Such transregional views of South or Southeast Asia pose a fundamental challenge to the fragmented nation-states that framed most of the anthropological scholarship until transnationalism as a concept attempted to replace it, although not without problems.
Laurie Margot Ross
Visiting Fellow, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University
Research Fellow, KITLV (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies), Leiden, The Netherlands
The Encoded Cirebon Mask: Materiality, flow, and meaning along Java’s Islamic Northwest Coast
[ project summary ]
My main objective with this book project is to understand how aesthetics, political authority, and an evolving Islam converged on the island of Java through the prism of an old mask tradition on the periphery of elite (literate) society. My focus is on the middle-Dutch colonial period (mid-nineteenth-century) through today. Java’s north coast, pasisir, was once a vital region of domestic and transoceanic exchange in the Indian Ocean region. There, Sufi networks devoted to carving and textile industries flourished. Cirebon, which is situated in what is today called West Java, near the Central Java border, was an important portal through which Chinese, Arabs, Indians, Siamese, Armenians, Baghdadi Jews, and Central Asians gained access to the interior. The result was a burgeoning global trade emporium during the golden age of spice. With any inter-Asian project of any colony, the colonizer had an active hand. Considering the nearly three hundred years of Dutch hegemony in the Archipelago, this is an important pivot in the story. Why try to understand the deepening of mystical Islam through the prism of mask culture? Historically, live performance has served as a barometer of the zeitgeist in which it occurs. Masks from the Cirebon region and the performers who bring them to life have a unique story to tell. The narrative moves from masks being employed as a popular entertainment to please the court, peddlers, and expedition travelers passing through, to a form that, through protracted contact with immigrant populations, metamorphosed into something that speaks to how Islam was, and continues to be, imagined at the margins. In Cirebon, the very object of the mask is evidence of a culture struggling with its own religious history: indigenous, Hindu-Buddhist, Tantric, and on the eve of the twentieth-century (late by any historical definition), a religion elegantly keyed in to the core tenets of mystical Islam. Circulation, migration, and the power of symbols are at the heart of the story. In this chronicle of itinerant performers from Cirebon, I aim to stretch our notion of what makes art “Islamic.” Its definition is slippery though typically includes a set of motifs, notably cubes, spheres, and the written word (calligraphy), with an emphasis on the Middle East. This study shows that scripted language does far more than convey specific words and their meaning; it may also conceal and protect, as the talismans scripted on the versos of some old masks do. What makes art Islamic, then, is highly idiosyncratic. Its meaning is embedded in the region that produced it, in this case Java, and all of the religious, cultural, and political factors that once shaped it—and will continue to modulate it in innovative ways.
I. Kaya Sahin
Assistant Professor, History, Indiana University
Conflict, Confessionalization and Exchange in Early Modern Islam: The Ottoman-Safavid Rivalry in the Middle East and beyond (1501-1639)
[ project summary ]
While the Sunni-Shiite divide emerged in the early days of Islam, the conflict between the Ottomans and the Safavids re-configured Sunni and Shiite confessional identities, made them a cornerstone of rival imperialisms, and internationalized them in this antagonistic form. The power of today’s Sunni and Shiite identities partly stems from their redefinition in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on the basis of this major religious, political, and cultural conflict.
The Ottoman-Safavid conflict changed the religious landscape of early modern Islam. Between 1501, the coming to power of the first Safavid ruler Ismail (r. 1501-1524), and 1639, the signing of the Qasr-e Shirin treaty, the Ottomans and the Safavids engaged in warfare, religious propaganda and cultural competition in their search for supremacy in the Islamic world. The Ottoman sultans claimed to be the caliphs of Sunni Islam, while the Safavid shahs promoted themselves as the spiritual leaders of Twelver Shiism. After nearly a century and a half of warfare, the Qasr-e Shirin treaty formalized the dividing line between the Sunnis and the Shiites in both geographical and religious terms, thus introducing the final stage in the confessionalization and territorialization of Sunni and Shiite Islam. (It should be noted here that large Shiite and Alevi communities continued to live in Ottoman territories, while the Sunni communities inside the Safavid domains dwindled.) Between the early sixteenth century and the middle of the seventeenth, Sunni and Shiite Islam were thus made the most important identity markers of two rival imperial powers. Slowly but surely, being a Sunni or a Shiite became an integral part of the identity of not only the elites, but the local populations as well; moreover, Sunni and Shiite identities came to denote different political allegiances. During this period, the Ottomans and the Safavids also endeavored to support their fellow Sunnis and Shiites in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, thus leading to the internationalization of the new religious and political identities.
The Ottoman-Safavid rivalry allows us to revisit a number of issues that are crucial for early modern Islamic history: the rise of a new relationship between religion and politics; the creation and dissemination of new religious statements as well as moral norms; the use of the terminology of ghaza and jihad in intra-Muslim conflicts; the conflation of empire-building and confession-building; attempts at propaganda and counter-propaganda; a new emphasis on ritual and the political supervision of the individual subjects’ participation in it; and the territorialization of confessions. An important component of this scholarly agenda is to reach beyond the geographical and scholarly boundaries established by various nationalist and Orientalist historiographies, conceive of early modern Islamic societies and landscapes as communities and zones tied to each other by similar religio-political dynamics, and discuss the Ottoman-Safavid rivalry within the larger context of early modern Eurasia, where redefined and reimagined political theologies constituted the core political ideologies from Tudor England to Mughal India and beyond.
Chinese Studies Library, University Library, University of Pennsylvania
Commercial Connections and Economic Growth in East, Inner, and Southeast Asia, 900- 1300
[ project summary ]
In the period between about 750 and 1300, China’s economy experienced growth so dramatic that some have called it an economic revolution. China was unquestionably the world’s most thriving society at the time. Earlier generations of scholars have concentrated largely on China’s domestic economy, assuming that external trade had little to do with China’s economic growth in this period. This project, together with other recent work in East Asian history, situates medieval China in a larger Asian context by showing the significance of inter-Asian contexts and connections and their consequences. In doing so, this research shifts the focus of analysis from a self-contained Chinese economy to a broader web of international connections and at the same time offers a historical perspective on the current growth of the Chinese economy to a position of formidable importance to the regional economy of Asia and to the world.
Centering chronologically on the tenth to the thirteenth centuries (China’s Song dynasty), the period to which scholars have ascribed the greatest growth and when pre-modern Chinese monetary expansion reached its zenith, my work shows that, contrary to prevailing interpretations, foreign trade and, more generally, China’s position within a broader economic network connecting East, Southeast, and Inner Asia fueled China’s unprecedented domestic economic growth. Secondly, I argue for the effects of Chinese economic development on other parts of this network. Connecting these two parts of my argument, I propose the existence of a Song Currency Sphere extending across Japan, Korea, parts of Southeast and Inner Asia, and even touching sections of the Middle East and eastern Africa, a portion of the world in which monetized exchange depended on the supply of Chinese bronze coins.
The production of vast quantities of bronze coinage in China during this period provided the necessary fuel for monetization elsewhere in East Asia, especially in areas connected to regional maritime trading networks. In particular, Japan’s medieval economy changed dramatically as a result of trade with China, with a shift from commodity money to reliance on coins and growing levels of commercialization. At the same time, flows of money and foreign goods were important to the medieval Chinese state, as it sought to exploit economic growth to meet its fiscal needs. Over the course of these four centuries, Chinese emperors intervened more and more in the conduct of trade on maritime and overland frontiers and expropriated profits from intensifying foreign trade to fill imperial treasuries.
This analysis relies on a combination of textual sources and archeological materials. The largest quantity of texts are Chinese government sources, but I also make use of government sources from Inner Asian states, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, together with more literary materials and relevant epigraphy.
Independent Researcher, hosted by Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient in Paris
Behind Vietnam’s “Southward March”: Innovation and Hybridization in 16th - 18th Century Competitions along the Coasts from Guangdong to Cambodia
[ project summary ]
Cochinchina was not merely a Vietnamese frontier, but lay at the intersection of numerous transnational Asian and European interests, state, sectarian and individual. The standard histories of the region have described Cochinchina as a southern territory absorbed by Vietnamese migrants in a process that has been called – inappropriately – a Vietnamese Southward Expansion. I propose instead using the Cochinchina “frontier” as a fulcrum for opening up transnational approaches by considering the region as an intersection of many regional and global influences.
Re-envisioning Cochinchina in transnational context begins with a new look at its geography. Its participation in the wider monsoon Asia trading networks is considered in terms of upland production areas and multiple transshipment centers, where control of the eastern coast was no more important than involvement with production centers in the highland interior. The period in which Cochinchina is described as a separate political entity is framed by the two most prolonged droughts of the past seven centuries, which coincided with the movement of Khmer civilization away from Angkor in the early 15th century and an 18th century collapse in which mainland kingdoms fell against a backdrop of epic drought, famine and a raft of related social issues. Anomalous climate conditions also variously aided or hindered the establishment and maintenance of global trade routes. There is a need to examine the hybrid nature Cochinchina’s society which benefited from intense competition among diverse groups along the coast from Fujian to Bangkok. As Portuguese and mestizo settlers continued to conduct commerce in several ports after Iberian colonial interests had been overtaken by the Dutch, Asian and European elements merged, incorporating new ideas and technologies. Communities of both highlanders and lowlanders were essential to the networks linking highlands to ports and to markets abroad.
Histories of Vietnam were rewritten by the 19th century court and competing narratives were destroyed, paving the way for the simpler story of Vietnamese people making a gradual southward advance in to Cochinchina over the past thousand years. In place of that narrative, we can consider the imperial and colonial frontier as a place of intersection of diverse global forces and interests.