Critical Interventions: Mapping Emerging Scholarship on South Asia


Asma Abbas

Asma Abbas teaches politics, ethics, and aesthetics at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington, Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, New York, and at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi, where she is also currently the dean of academics. She  is the founding director of Hic Rosa, an art, education, and politics collective, and of Falsework School, moving spaces for community political and humanistic education. She is a political theorist and educator constantly thinking and teaching about the sentiments, voices, stories, knowledges, potentialities of the marginalized and the outsider, and the importance of building life and institutions alongside and away from those visible and invisible centers of power that might have always held us captive but whose capacities to read, sense, love, know, honour, and do justice have failed to captivate us. She is the author of several essays and two books, Liberalism and Human Suffering (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), and Another Love (Rowman & Littlefield, November 2018). She currently lives between Richmond and Karachi.

Keynote Abstract

Anticolonial Maps for Lost Lovers: Notes on the Aesthetics and Politics of Method

This lecture looks at the entrapments of knowledge production and social reproduction that predominate in the wider postcolony, delivering us the most enduring objects of inquiry and rendering us the producers of certain kinds of knowledge and evidence. Between the attempts to decolonise the academy that remain enchanted with the text of colonial modernity even as they try to look away, and those modes of liberal universalism that turn colonial inferiorities into smug neo-orientalist virtues, what seems to be lost is the promise of politics itself--politics understood here, among other things, as the contention over the production and experience of subjects and objects as given, available, and non-negotiable. Seeking an anticolonial and antifascist materialist politics, the talk will present some observations and contentions on the issue of what it means to continue to produce and agree on the seemingly consensual objects of our desire and study, and where we must begin to identify our complicities with those mistaken and suspicious inheritances of political history that somehow continue to produce and concede to the particular subjects of knowledge who look remarkably like those who have always overseen our destruction, even as they confessed our love for us. What might a shared agenda for knowing and being in the face of this look like? What objects will we have to give up on or conjure in order to allow ourselves to be different kinds of political subjects?


Jamal J. Elias

Jamal J. Elias is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Islamic Studies in the Departments of Religious Studies and of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the inaugural Director of the Penn Forum for Global Islamic Studies.

A recipient of many grants and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the (U.S.) Social Science Research Council (among others), he has lectured and published extensively on a broad range of subjects relevant to the mediaeval and modern Islamic world. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of nine books and numerous articles dealing with a range of topics in Islamic history, thought, literature, and art. His most recent books are On Wings of Diesel: Trucks, Identity and Culture in Pakistan (Oxford, 2011) and Aisha¹s Cushion: Religious Art, Perception and Practice in Islam (Cambridge Massachusetts, 2012) and most recently Alef is for Allah: Childhood, Emotion and Visual Culture in Islamic Societies (Berkeley, 2018). His writings have been translated into Arabic, Bahasa Indonesian, Chinese, German, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish and Urdu.

Keynote Abstract

Beyond the Narrative: Recovering the Personal and Emotional in History

Scholars of South Asia have been at the forefront of identifying problems associated with taking historical texts at face value. Whether it be under the rubric of subaltern studies or the study of history against the grain, many specialists on South Asia recognize that normative historical narratives run the risk of ignoring the voices of those marginalized on the basis of gender, class, caste, religion and other factors. Although such approaches represent an important corrective to the study of history and society, they don’t attempt to address many factors of human experience that serve as active forces. In this lecture, I attempt to locate the personal as an important motivator in human actions, arguing that what are often dismissed as irrelevant details or tropes should be taken seriously as sources of information and motivation.