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Symposium on Islam’s pluralism in South Asia Nov. 22

A symposium on “Muslims among Others: Islam’s Pluralism in South Asia” will be held on Friday, November 22, 2013, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in  Bowl 1 Robertson Hall at Princeton University. The event, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Program in South Asian Studies.

**Media who would like to attend should RSVP by November 21 to Jayne Bialkowski (or by phone 609-258-2635)**

According to Isabelle Clark-Decès, director of the Program in South Asian Studies, about a third of the world’s Muslims live in the three major countries of South Asia: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  They constitute approximately a fifth of the total population of the subcontinent, and are found in roughly equal numbers, though very different proportions, in each of the three countries. 

“These Muslim populations are ethnically varied,” she said, “as the secession of Bangladesh, the continuing tensions within Pakistan, and the distinctiveness of Tamil Muslims makes clear.  They are also religiously differentiated along more than one axis: Sunnis and Shi‘ites, Hanafis and Shafi‘ites, Sufis and Salafis.”

Moreover, she explained, they live their lives in very distinct political contexts; even within the same country, different Muslim populations respond to very different political environments.   

This symposium will examine the implications of a shared religious heritage and links to the wider Muslim world under conditions of globalization on the sense of identity, the relationships with non-Muslims, and the views of the world at large among the Muslim populations of the subcontinent. 

It begins at 9:30 a.m. with a panel on “Shias and Sunnis in South Asian Islam” chaired by Mirjam Künkler, an assistant professor of Near Eastern studies.  Panelists include Michael Cook, Class of1943 University Professor of Near Eastern Studies, who will speak on South Asian sectarianism, and Simon Fuchs, a religion and culture graduate fellow in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, who will speak on the Sunni-Shia conflict in Pakistan.

The second panel, “Muslims and Others in Gujarat,” is chaired by Frederick Smith, a professor of Sanskrit and classical Indian literature at the University of Iowa, and is slated to begin at 11:15 a.m. Panelists include Daniel Sheffield, a lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and Near Eastern studies, who will speak on Parsi-Muslim relations in Gujarat and Mumbai, and Christophe Jaffrelot, director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and a professor at Sciences Po, Paris, who will speak on the Hindu stereotype of the Muslim in Gujarat.



Isabelle Clark-Decès is a professor in the Department of Anthropology. Her current project is a book-length ethnography on marriages between close kin in Tamilnadu (South India), both as they were arranged and experienced in the recent past, and as they are increasingly discontinued in the present. This study, “The Right to Marry One's Own: Tamil Kinship in a Field of Relations,” seeks to make a contribution to the ways in which anthropologists interpret kinship and social change in a global world and transnational liberal economy. Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley.

Michael Cook’s research interests include Islamic history, the formation of Islamic civilization and the role played by religious values in that process. A prolific author, his books include Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (2000), a study of the Islamic value  of al-amr bi`l-ma'ruf (the duty of Muslims to tell people off for violating God’s Law) over the range of Islamic history.  Before joining the Princeton faculty in 1986, he taught Islamic history at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.  Ph.D. University of Cambridge.

Simon Fuchs’ work focuses on debates over religious orthodoxy among Shi'i ulama in Pakistan and their ties to the centers of Shi'i scholarship in Iran and Iraq. He is interested in questions of reform, sectarianism, religious authority, and travel of ideas between South Asia and the Middle East.

Christophe Jaffrelot is at Princeton this year as Council for International Teaching and Research Global Scholar, Program in South Asian Studies. His research interests focus on the politics of India and Pakistan, and include theories of nationalism and democracy, mobilization of the lower castes and untouchables in India, the Hindu nationalist movement, and ethnic conflicts in Pakistan. His books include Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analyzing and Fighting Caste (2005), India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India (2003), and The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s (1999). Ph.D. Sciences Po, Paris.

Mirjam Künkler’s research interests concern religion-state relations and Islamic thought in 20th century Iran and Indonesia. She has edited two books: Zur Rolle von Religion in emokratisierungsprozessen (On the Role of Religious Actors in Democratization Processes, 2009), with Julia Leininger, and Indonesia, Islam and Democracy  (2012), with Alfred Stepan. She has also completed a monograph that analyzes the impact of contemporary Islamic thought and social movement activism on the transformation of authoritarian rule in Iran (1989–2005) and Indonesia (1974-1998).  Ph.D. Columbia University.

Daniel Sheffield’s research in Iranian and Persian studies includes the evolution of discursive practices by which Zoroastrians in Iran and India struggled to define their communal identity through constructions of the life of Zarathustra, the central figure of their religion. He is currently working on a book manuscript entitled “Cosmopolitan Zarathustras: Religion, Translation, and Prophethood in Iran and South Asia,” which explores themes of orthodoxy, syncretism, vernacularization, and colonialism.  Ph.D. Harvard University.

Frederick Smith is at Princeton this year as Stewart Fellow in South Asian Studies/Visiting Professor of the Council of the Humanities.  Smith is the author of The Self Possessed: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and Civilization. His research includes studies of texts and performances of Vedic sacrificial ritual from antiquity to the present, studies of religious experience in India, the writings of Vallabhacarya, and the epic Mahabharata. Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania.

For more information contact the Jayne Bialkowski, or 609-258-2635.