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Workshop on nationalisms in South Asia (2018)


Workshop participants, including Andreas Johansson (2nd from left), Frank J. Korom (centre), Ted Svensson (3rd from right) and others.

On 14-15 April 2018, SASNET hosted a workshop on Nationalisms in South Asia. The workshop was generously funded by the Crafoord Foundation.

Professor Frank Korom (Boston University), Associate Professor Jan Magnusson (Lund University) and the director of SASNET Andreas Johansson took the lead in organizing the workshop.  The core idea of the workshop builds on a generation of scholarship arguing that nationalism was a strictly Western affair. Bengali Nobel Laureate in Literature, Rabindranath Tagore, for example, stated that his homeland India never developed nationalism. However, his book Religious Nationalism (1994) Peter van der Veer provides an important corrective to this scholarship. Van Veer argues that while Asia might not have had “secular” nationalisms, it most certainly produced “religious” nationalisms. This workshop focused on examples from South Asia to examine whether or not a meaningful comparison can be made within one distinct cultural region – namely, the Indian Subcontinent.

The organizers argued that there are some parallels to be made, in terms of symbolic resources, between nationalist actors in different South Asian countries. A mythical past, the deification of folk heroes, the anointing of sacred geographical sites, and the composition of epic poetry are all vehicles for the expression of a religious ideology constructed for nationalistic purposes throughout South Asia. Moreover, such religious ideologies, once constructed, are used to foment divisive ethnic politics, which often lead to widespread communal violence (as in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka). The workshop explored whether such a comparative model is better way to think about religious nationalism in South Asia than analysis driven by methodological nationalism, in which one single nation or culture is excised from the global or regional context for the purpose of analysis.

In addition to the organizers the workshop saw paper presentations by Peter Van Der Veer (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen), Boris Wille (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg), Susan A. Reed, (Bucknell University), Mari Miyamoto (Keio University), Mara Malagodi, (City Law School, University of London), and Jürgen Schaflechner (University of Heidelberg). Discussant was Ted Svensson from the Political Science department, Lund University.   

See full program here