The past week has seen a huge flurry of Asian Religions events here at New College, centering around the Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, which was held over the weekend. It was great fun seeing so many familiar faces and making new connections. After a long and busy semester it was the perfect way to get my brain back into research mode!
The fun began last Thursday (9th April), with the arrival of my research collaborator James Hegarty for project conversations, and a guest lecture from Professor Stephen Berkwitz, entitled ‘Locating “True Buddhism” in the Modern World’, in which he outlined the use by modern Sinhalese Buddhists of a rhetoric of authenticity. It was a very stimulating paper, and there was a good sized audience of staff, students (undergraduate and postgraduate) and members of the public. Coffee before the lecture and dinner after added to the day’s conversational opportunities. I have long been a fan of Stephen’s work (and particularly enjoyed his latest book, Buddhist Poetry and Colonialism) and so it was a great pleasure to finally meet him in person.
Entertainment continued on the Friday with the arrival of Jonathan Geen and Brian Black for our Story of Story in South Asia project roundtable (about which you can see my initial reflections on the project blog here). We had deliberately positioned this event just before the Spalding Symposium so as to take advantage of the many interesting and interested parties who would be making their way up to Edinburgh, and this turned out to be an excellent decision! Amongst the scholars around the table were the two Spalding Symposium keynote speakers, Stephen Berkwitz and Uma Chakravarti, as well as Anja Pogacnik (Edinburgh), Sarah Shaw (Oxford), Elizabeth Harris (Liverpool Hope), Anna King (Winchester), Jessie Pons (Bochum), Margo Guagni (Venice), Hephzibah Israel (Edinburgh) and Dermot Killingley (Newcastle). The conversation was very interesting and prompted some useful reflections for James and myself as we enter the final stages of the project.
The Symposium itself was a great success, with a generally high quality of papers all speaking to the theme of ‘dialogue’. We heard about inter-religious dialogue, literary dialogues, visual dialogues, didactic and dialectic dialogues, dialogues that thinly disguise an attempt to encompass or subordinate, and what happens when there is no dialogue. Papers drew on a range of material from all periods, from dialogues with Kṛṣṇa in the Mahābhārata, through colonial and missionary interactions, to the contemporary debate over cow-protection in India. As is generally my experience of the Spalding Symposium, I found much to think about in all the papers, both those closely linked to my own research and those far removed.
Faintly exhausted from the weekend I nonetheless made it along to hear Uma Chakravarti’s lecture to the Centre for South Asian Studies on Monday (13th), which was entitled ‘Conjugality and its Discontents: A Story Told Through Photographs.’ The visual stimulation and conversational presentation was exactly what I needed as I recovered from the effort of hosting.
With everybody gone my brain is still whirring and it is time I settled down to some research! Thank you to everyone who brought so much interesting discussion to Edinburgh – it has been a wonderful week!