CEIAS Thematic Workshops (2019-2023)


The Senses: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives

Following the CEIAS thematic research workshop "Love; Between Norm and Transgression: Art, History, Fiction" (2014-2018) which focused on the expression of love within the more general framework of emotion, we propose to expand the workshop objective to include study of the history and anthropology of senses and sensitivities. This area has undergone significant development in recent years and is evident in both English and French literature.

Incorporating an intensive investigation of the representations and uses/techniques of the body, this theme allows us to approach critically the five senses: vision (cf. classical study of the "darshanam," darśana, but also more contemporary versions); hearing (sound, noise, music); smell (essence, odor, perfume); taste (flavor, food, spice); touch (embrace, caress, touch). This examination of the "sensory landscapes" will result in a better understanding of the codes and socio-anthropological dynamics at work in the hierarchies of the senses (links to statutes and socio-professional practices, distinction strategies, etc.). The senses obviously play a crucial role in cultural perceptions (aesthetic, but also cognitive) of the world.

In "The Senses: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives," particular attention will be paid to the use of new media. In this next phase of the "Love" study, our new expanded objectives will also involve the following disciplines: literature, literary and social history, aesthetics, performing arts and cinema. Among other things, we will examine the links between personal feelings, social norms and cultural representations.




Literature and History in South Asia: Fertilizations

Coordinators: Anne Castaing, Ève Tignol 


This thematic workshop aims to enquire into the ongoing dialogue in South Asia about literature as creation and history as writing of the past, focusing both on the literary uses of history and the historical uses of literature.

In contrast to disciplinary approaches that have opposed history as authentic representation, deprived of literality, and literature as chimeric reconstruction of reality, deprived of historicity, this workshop aims to highlight the productive links between creation, narrative and history forged in South Asia, from classical epics to contemporary works, including "hybrid" forms (hagiographies, life stories, chronicles), which constitute the literary heritage of the Indian subcontinent.

The workshop will first examine contemporary debates on the relationship between literature and history in South Asia and investigate the sometimes disputed uses of literature by historians. We will focus both on the controversy over the use of literature in history, challenged by supporters of the linguistic turn, and on the methodological issues raised by the status of literary sources; the uses of literary works by Subaltern Studies historians, as well as their reconsideration in the light of their social and historical context by literature scholars themselves. Addressing the tensions and ties between history and fiction, between text and context, this workshop consequently considers the impact of literature on history as a discipline, as well as on historiography, such as the re-assessment of sources (are literary sources reliable? To what extent is a source "historical"?) as well as disciplines (from the perspective of the hybrid genres of vernacular histories, such as Persian nāmah, Assamese buranjī, ancient and modern autobiographies, etc.). The objective is to provide a space for reflection on the question of disciplinary interactions in the humanities and social sciences in South Asia.

On the other hand, the workshop aims to investigate the writing of history developed by literature in South Asia, and the role of literature in the construction of history. We will thus consider testimonies and life narratives that, in some cases, enable the writing of social history and provide frameworks and subaltern or alternative histories that challenge traditional historical narratives (Arnold and Blackburn, 2004); the role of literature and literary spheres (magazines, publishers, etc.) in the "reinvention" of the past and the crystallization of identities, whether communal, national or linguistic; the part of literature in politics and the interpenetration of literature and political life (pamphlet-literature, propaganda, literary activism, didactic literature); and, finally, the literary representation of history, which represents one of the major themes of modern South Asian literature and offers opportunity for both the documentation and writing of the past, taking an active part in the imaginary construction of history.

But the aim is also—and that is where the link between literature and history is most productive—to show how literarity opens room to weave a discourse on history, how narrative and stylistic strategies reveal existing tensions (S. Chandra on H. Bhartendu; A. Mufti on S. H. Manto) and collective ideals (A. Bernard ; S. Kaviraj), and how it shapes the historical experience. In other words, how literature does not reproduces history so much as produces it within its own poetics.




Regionalism and cosmopolitanism: Tamil textualities

Coordinator : Emmanuel Francis

The workshop "Regionalism and Cosmopolitanism: Tamil Textualities" is an extension of the "Regionalism and Cosmopolitanism: South India" of the previous CEIAS lustrum.

The focus has shifted to Tamil-language texts, taking into account the experience gained in the earlier project which focused on Tamil texts, the evolution of Tamil studies in the Parisian context (arrival, post or assignment of prospective members) and the development of Tamil text corpuses as part of the "Endangered Archives" program (British Library), an initiative of prospective project members.

The current workshop will maintain the original goal of bringing together specialists from different disciplines within the South Indian research context for in-depth investigation and eventual review of the particular and shared features of a regional culture, which, throughout its history, has been part of a dual movement of cosmopolitanism and regionalism. This undertaking will be carried out mainly through the investigation of texts in Tamil language (inscriptions, literature, canonical texts, treatises, administrative documents, etc.).

Three areas of activity are planned:

(1) The workshop will provide a forum for researchers (CEIAS members or not) to present their work to CEIAS as with the previous project. The new workshop scope will be broader than that of the original project assimilating the previous "Regionalism and cosmopolitanism: South India" CEIAS project within it.

(2) The workshop will continue running its existing, eponymous research blog (https://rcsi.hypotheses.org/) publicizing various posts (announcements of conferences, symposia and publications; reviews; posts on ongoing research) for communication and scientific monitoring purposes.

(3) The workshop participants will regularly organize Tamil text focused working seminars to build a collective response from specialists; project members and researchers working on text corpuses in Tamil or other Indian languages. The objective is to create a forum for dialogue and exchange on texts, or a corpus of textual sources, between researchers from different backgrounds and perspectives. In order to reap the benefits of this multidisciplinary approach, it will be necessary to involve the many possible approaches (anthropological, geographical, historical, philological, etc.). Several Tamil corpora studied at CEIAS are already being targeted:

- Medieval inscriptions (N. Cane, E. Francis, V. Gillet, U. Veluppillai).

- Christian manuscripts (I. G. Županov ).

- Siddha medical manuscripts (B. Sebastia). See: EAP 810.

- Agrarian records (Z. Headley). See: D.A.T.A.H., EAP 314, EAP 458, EAP 689.

The workshop participant (project member or not, "textualist" or not, specialist of Tamil or not) will present, in one or more sessions, his corpus, the questions he addresses it with, the approaches (methodological, disciplinary) he adopts to exploit it. Examples of presentation thematics already under consideration include: praise in the Tamil epigraphic corpus; imprecations in agrarian archives.




Translating History and Historicizing Translation:

Redefining the Other and Oneself

Coordinators : Corinne Lefèvre, Fabrizio Speziale, Ines G. Županov

This workshop is intended to be both an extension and a reorientation of the previous CEIAS lustrum's, "Self-stories, Stories of Others: Questions of Translation and Historiography." "Translating History and Historicizing Translation: Redefining the Other and Oneself" addresses translation as a preeminent, modern era stimulus for the building and transforming of knowledge both of the Self and the Other in South Asia, and as a unique prism through which to study the phenomena of intellectual hybridization through the construction of scholar/reader networks.

The translation observed. We plan to deconstruct and compare translation practices that are emerging in the South Asian context by first questioning the interpretations of these practices by their practitioners. In other words, what are the translators' views of their practices and how do these views evolve according to translation networks and contexts? What are the aims, aporias, metadiscourses for translation and how do readers' expectations influence translators' styles? How does the act of translation impact literary practices and how do they influence the production of new translations?

The competition between translations: translating oneself and others. In the multi-linguistic space of South Asia, translation is in fact a field in which several source and target languages, cosmopolitan and vernacular, compete according to the socio-political context in which the translation operates and the objective to which it responds: in most documented examples, it is either a question of knowing the other, as in the case of Persian versions of Sanskrit sources, or of making oneself known to the other, as in the case of translations made by missionaries. Hence an essential question: what are the asymmetries and reciprocal influences between the translation of the other and the translation of oneself?

Corollaries of multilingualism. What is the role of intermediate languages in South Asia, given that many translations are not direct adaptations from the original language of the source? What are the forms of continuity and change between translations into different languages of the same target culture, such as in the translation from Sanskrit sources into Persian, Arabic and Urdu? How is the technical and disciplinary lexicon of translated knowledge constructed and developed, and what is the place of multilingualism in this process?

Translation disciplines. Another important consideration is the disciplinary contexts of the knowledge concerned by translation. Translation is a selective practice that excludes certain aspects and fields from the representation of the knowledge of the other and of oneself. In parallel, the transposition of knowledge, or fragments of knowledge, into another knowledge system can redefine the disciplinary registration of translated materials.

Reflective aspects. What are the reflexive aspects of translation? How does the translation of the other's terms and concepts redefine the conceptual scope of the terms of the target culture used in the translation, for example when the Hindu concept of avatar is translated by the Muslim category of nabi (prophet)? In what ways does the translation of the other influence self-knowledge and redefinition? Conversely, what are the reactions to these dynamics?

Translation geographies. Where are the centers of translation? Who are the patrons? Of whom are the translators' and readers' networks composed? What is the circulation horizon for translations produced in South Asia? In particular, their impact in other parts of the Asian and non-Asian world will be examined.

Cross-reference historiographies on translation in South Asia. In addition to the in-depth analysis of a series of texts dating back to the Modern Age, the series will be examined in the light of the rich philological traditions of the sub-continent but also considering the diverse approaches used for the major translation projects of the region. It is necessary to go beyond a compartmentalized view, in which different translation activities are considered isolated, fragmented and unconnected phenomena, to question local, regional and trans-regional dynamics.




Aesthetics and the Vernacular:

Cultural Products and New Elites in The Indus Valley and Beyond.

Coordinator : Michel Boivin

The thematic workshop "Aesthetics and the Vernacular: Cultural Products and New Elites in the Sindhi Area and Beyond" is part of the rebuilding of two workshops from the previous five-year period: "Vernacular Cultures and New Muslim Elites in Colonial and Postcolonial South Asia" and "Gujarati and Sindhi Studies: Societies, Languages and Cultures". The emphasis is shifted towards cultural productions, particularly visual ones, in that they inform us of the interaction between the construction of Sindhi vernacular knowledge and the production of an elite in the colonial and post-colonial era. Through the renewal of this workshop, it is a question of incorporating a field largely neglected by the Social Sciences covering a vast domain that extends from numismatics to cinema. The use of the term "aesthetic" refers first and foremost to the primary meaning of the Greek word aisthitikos of "perception by the senses". But to use Christopher Pinney's formula, it is also a question of focusing on "the collapse of the social into aesthetic" (Pinney 2004: 11) but with a particular focus on the vernacular elites that we will call the intelligentsia. Moreover, the premise is that cultural products are a privileged place to analyse the interactions between social and religious issues.

The workshop aims to question the interactions between aesthetics and the vernacular that can be articulated around an axiomatic problem: how does aesthetics, conceived primarily as a set of cultural productions, contribute to the emergence of vernacular knowledge in contemporary South Asia? The relationship to aesthetics will certainly be questioned through the intervention of specialists, but the workshop will nevertheless follow Richard Davis when he states that cultural products "are primarily grounded not in universal aesthetic principles of sculptural form or in common human psychology of perception, but more significantly in varied (and often conflicting) cultural notions of divinity, representation, and authority" (Davis 1999 : 8).


Although Sindh has often been described as a kind of isolate, due to its geographical position far from the centres of power, such as Delhi, it is clear that the construction of the vernacular was carried out through the continuous circulation of cultural paradigms. Therefore, it will be important to situate the Sindhi vernacular in a regional context, i.e. mirroring adjacent countries such as Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan. Consequently, the workshop will have to bring together specialists from different disciplines around the Sindhi regional fact, but also in its interactions with adjacent regions and other territories belonging to South Asia and beyond. This undertaking will be carried out mainly through the investigation of Sindhi cultural corpuses produced in Sindh, now in Pakistan, India, and the South Asian diaspora.

Nevertheless, this workshop will be the only one focusing on the Sindhi vernacular outside South Asia. This means that the international vocation of the workshop will be reflected in its members, who will belong to the CEIAS, but also to other European institutions. In addition, the workshop will attach the greatest importance to dialogue with other workshops, CEIAS and others, which share the same interests in other regions of South Asia, as well as in other cultural areas.

Three areas of activity are envisaged:

(1) The workshop will provide a forum for researchers (members or not of the workshop) to present their work to CEIAS, in continuity with the two previous workshops.

(2) The workshop will continue to maintain its research notebook "Sindhi Studies Group: Society, Culture and Territory" (https://sindh.hypotheses.org/) for communication and scientific monitoring purposes, through the publication of various content posts (announcements of conferences, symposia and publications; reviews; posts on ongoing research).

(3) The workshop will operate on a regular basis in working seminars on Sindhi cultural products in order to conduct a collective reflection between the specialists who are members of the workshop and researchers working on cultural corpuses, whether the latter are in Sindhi, from another South Asian region or in adjacent areas such as the Iranian world. The objective is to bring together and exchange researchers from different backgrounds based on cultural corpuses, examined from the angles of different disciplines. It will be a question of crossing the various possible approaches (anthropological, geographical, historical, philological, etc.) in order to draw benefits from this multidisciplinary approach.

(4) Finally, one of the priorities of the workshop will be to constitute a documentary resource composed of cultural corpuses produced within the Sindh area. It will include in particular hard-to-reach sources such as corpora of texts, published and handwritten, photographic corpora of sites, corpora of recorded devotional songs, filmed interviews with informants, visual documents of all kinds, etc.

The guest (member or not of the workshop, specialist in visual productions, sindhologist or not) will present, on one or more sessions, his corpus, the questions he addresses to him, the approaches (methodological, disciplinary) he adopts to exploit it.




Living with Religious Plurality and Reflexivity in South Asia

Coordinators: Aminah Mohammad-Arif and Grégoire Schlemmer


South Asia is known for its great religious plurality; Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Judaism and tribal religions—each characterized by its own significant internal forces and variations—have coexisted for centuries. In such a context, how can we conceptualize the forms of interaction between the members of these religions? How is this plurality concretely experienced? What impact does such coexistence have on individuals' representations and practices? What are the points of contact but also the points of rupture between them? As a debate on religious plurality emerges in a Europe-in-crisis, the multi-faith nature of South Asian societies offers a particularly pertinent field of study, all the more heuristic given the religious and identity-oriented tensions manifesting themselves there today.

This theme has, of course, already been a subject of research. There are subsequently valuable case studies on particular religions (Ahmad & Reifeld 2004, Mayaram 1997 for Islam and Hinduism, Mumford 1989 for Buddhism and local religions, etc.); studies addressing religious plurality from specific angles, such as the question of identity, relying in particular on the case of Christians and Muslims in India (Assayag and Tarabout 1997); and others still, considering institutional and/or political questions and taking secularism, for example, as an entry point (Jaffrelot and Mohammad-Arif 2012).

We propose to approach religious plurality differently, initiating our research with the individual and her personal conceptions and practices. By individual, we do not necessarily mean an autonomous actor disengaged from collective logic and liberated from choice and conviction, as defined by modern individualism; but as with the approach taken by Subaltern Studies which gave target groups a new place as political subjects, as actors of their own history. We wish to highlight the role of the acting subject (agency) in the less explored field of religion.

To do this, we will mobilize the social theory of reflexivity—this intellectual process turns an individual's thought back in on herself, distancing her from group beliefs and practices thus providing room for reflection, evaluation and even doubt and reassessment. We begin with the hypothesis that reflexive inquiry is initiated through interaction with other forms of religious practice and discourse; by revealing several possible choices, these forms of interaction question the potentially routine and unthinking nature of religious practices and representations by the individual concerned. We propose that this reflexive inquiry, in turn, affects the religious perceptions and practices of the individual concerned, as well as the way she perceives the practices and representations of individuals belonging to other religions. Starting from this individual experience of religious diversity (through observations, narratives, life stories) and the reflective process it generates, we will therefore focus on how particular individuals rethink, readjust, reinterpret their religious conceptions and practices as a result of their interactions with the "Other". The final aim will be to study the experience of religious plurality based on the reflexive discourses of the individuals who are confronted with it, with the hypothesis that these discourses may in turn have effects on the conceptions and practices of the individuals concerned and on their conceptions of the practices of others.

This thematic atelier will be based on case studies describing situations and processes, present or past, of religious plurality experiences among different South Asian societies. The case study approach is made necessary by the importance of the contexts - historical, political, legal, social and of course, religious - that shape how religious plurality is considered and experienced by individuals. Taking each case beyond its wide range of contexts, the processes at work will be approached on the basis of an analysis of three types of situations in which religious plurality is observed: coexistence, interpenetration and conversion.