Study of Religion Graduate Research Colloquim

The Graduate Group in the Study of Religion presents its first Annual Research Colloquium on Thursday, June 12th, 11 AM-1 PM, 912 Sproul.

audience

GGSR first Annual Research Colloquium

presenters

Student presenters (left to right): Kaleena Bergfors, Deepa Mahadevan, Heather Wallace, Cai Thorman, and Mitchell, Winter

cai_thorman

Cai Thorman, Graduate Student presenter

lynn_roller

Prof. Lynn Roller, Faculty respondent

deepa

Deepa Mahadevan, Graduate Student presenter

wendy_ho

Prof. Wendy Ho, Faculty respondent

kaleena_bergfors

Kaleena Bergfors, Undergraduate Student presenter

mark_elmore

Prof. Mark Elmore, Faculty respondent

mitchell_winter

Mitchell Winter, Undergraduate Student presenter

jocelyn_sharlet

Prof. Jocelyn Sharley, Faculty respondent

allison_coudert

Prof. Allison Coudert, Faculty
 

All are welcome.

Schedule

11:00-11:20 AM

Cai Thorman. Ruler Cult in the Classical World: Challenging Assumptions.

Faculty Respondent: Prof. Lynn Roller, Art History

11:20-11:40

Heather Wallace. Demystifying the Simurgh: Reclaiming Persian Heritage in the Sixteenth Century Through Iconographic Reconstruction

Faculty Respondent: Prof. Jocelyn Sharlet, Comparative Literature

11:40-12:00

Kaleena Bergfors. Reimagined Divinity: A Typology of New Goddesses in Post-Colonial India

Faculty Respondent: Prof. Mark Elmore, Religious Studies

12:00-12:20

Deepa Mahadevan. The Project of Objectifying the Indian Female Classical Dancer

Faculty Respondent: Wendy Ho

12:20-12:40

Mitchell Winter. Travelling Images, Collected Texts: Towards a Typology of 19th Century Indian Trade Labels.

Faculty Respondent: Archana Venkatesan

12:40-1:00 PM

Open Discussion

1:00 PM

Lunch

ABSTRACTS

Cai Thorman. Ruler Cult in the Classical World: Challenging Assumptions

The traditions of Hellenistic and Roman ruler cult provided powerful religious and political tools to sovereigns for controlling and organizing the multicultural communities of the Mediterranean from the 4th c BC - 4th c AD. Since the foundation of Classics as a field, the prevailing view has been that ruler cult, as it was practiced by the Greeks and the Romans, had its origins in Greece and emerged as a direct response to the conquests, personality, and power of Alexander the Great. However, archaeological evidence indicates that the roots of Hellenistic and Roman ruler cult were more likely Near Eastern in origin. Compelling evidence can be traced through the archaeological record of Anatolia (a.k.a. Asia Minor or modern Turkey) from the Bronze Age to the Hellenistic period, when Alexander the Great conquered the region. This paper will examine the question of why such evidence may have been misinterpreted over the last centuries and what this means for our understanding of Western Civilization. 

Heather Wallace. Demystifying the Simurgh: Reclaiming Persian Heritage in the Sixteenth Century Through Iconographic Reconstruction

The Simurgh, a mythical dog-headed bird described in the Avesta, originally belonged exclusively to the realm of Zoroastrian mythology. However, with the transcription of the Persian epic, the Shahnameh—Book of Kings—from Pahlavi to Arabic, the Simurgh no longer belonged solely to Persian culture. Illuminated copies of the Shahnameh depict the Simurgh as a bird with colorful plumage. All traces of its original composite features have been eradicated. Looking at illuminated manuscripts produced during the sixteenth century, the iconography of the Simurgh has radically departed from the original description entailed in the sacred Avestan texts. The creature has been, in a matter of one hundred years, transformed from a fearsome predatory bird to what I argue is reminiscent of a rooster. Both the rooster and the Simurgh share similar mythological characteristics including religious piety, wisdom, and often assist heroes in times of need. In my paper I argue that the resemblance of the Simurgh to the rooster does not act as an antagonizing or subversive agent, but as a means of reclaiming Persian identity during the Safavid Empire. The use of the rooster as a iconographic influence mimics Ferdowsi's use of ambivalent rhetoric to reconcile the Zoroastrian epic to the new Islamic state.

Kaleena Bergfors. Reimagined Divinity: A Typology of New Goddesses in Post-Colonial India

The traditions and practices which make up Hinduism have been reinvented over time as it responds to and incorporates new ideas. However for the people that practiced these traditions over the centuries, a concept of “Hinduism” did not exist prior to the nineteenth century. Hinduism developed as a secular category as a result of colonial influence that was previously foreign and resulted in an explosion of new goddesses emerging across India. During the colonial period goddesses such as Bharat Mata and Tamilttay emerged from texts in response to colonial influence, incorporating the longstanding tradition of weaving old and new concepts together in their formulation. AIDS Amma and Angrezi Devi are rooted in the response the colonialism; however, their development is void of references to terms used for centuries to praise goddesses. This paper utilizes a typology of new goddesses seen in post-colonial India in order to explore what it is about the Sakta traditions that enable the creation of new goddesses, how this surge is related to colonialism, and that AIDS Amma and Angrezi Devi are truly new goddesses for a new era.

Deepa Mahadevan. The Project of Objectifying the Indian Female Classical Dancer

The body of the Indian classical female dancer has been a potent site for scripting identities of caste, class and gender. The meticulously crafted image of the female classical dancer thus aspires to perform the normalized identity of an upper caste, educated, 'family' girl/woman. This 'look' that the classical Indian dancer aspires to create is increasingly judged by the panoptic gaze of social media and internet commercialism. The dancer on her part internalizes this gaze and becomes a major player in this project of objectifying herself to increase ‘likes’ and ‘page views’ that in turn improves her social status and worth. This paper discusses the ways in which the Bharatnatyam industry consisting of tailors, make up artists, jewelers, web designers, photographers, print and web publications, teachers, dancers and their parents come together in furthering this project of objectification which is ‘hypernormalized’ by social media.

Mitchell Winter. Travelling Images, Collected Texts: Towards a Typology of 19th Century Indian Trade Labels.

This project examines the pictorial tradition of cotton cloth trade labels and their trajectories into the socioeconomic domain of nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial India. I focus on a collection of 38 trade labels that showcase different styles, dimensions and visual contents from production centers in British controlled ports like Bombay and Calcutta. Trade labels in colonial India were sold on cotton that was grown in India, shipped to Britain, manufactured and sent back to India to sell. Labels produced in European cloth mills in Manchester and Glasgow were then attached to cloth for sale. In the bidding wars that came to characterize the colonial cloth enterprise, European traders began to design and produce intricate labels for the cloth they sold in the Indian colonies. The resulting trade labels, a type of image circulating at the time, became popular with the Indian consumer public as objects of fascination and, as I suggest, devotion. Moreover, the European preoccupation with reproducing certain images of Indian public life in trade labels discernibly marks the cross-fertilizing exchange that activated during moments of the colonial encounter. Finally, I discuss Jyotindra Jain’s (2013) recent four-part model of trade labels as a point of comparison to my three-part typology, stressing the interpretative difficulties of ‘reading’ a visual archive of academic, moral, religious importance.