The third bi-annual BU Asia Film Week is on from Monday, April...
Category: Event in Review
On February 26, student organization ASIABU hosted a successful Asian New Year Celebration in Metcalf Ballroom in the George Sherman Union. Approximately 300 students attended the celebration to celebrate the Asian New Year and the vibrancy of Asian culture.
Along with a variety of entertainment, including performances from BU’s miXx K-Pop Cover Dance Crew, the Gamelankemana Indonesian musical ensemble and from the BU Belly Dance Society, the celebration greeted guests with red envelopes, which were filled with a “Guide to Asia,” and many many ethnic cuisines from Asia. Many student groups partnered with ASIABU to host the celebration, including the Taiwanese American Student Association, India Club, Japanese Student Association, Asian Student Union, Hong Kong Student Association, Indonesian Student Association, Chinese Student Association and the Singapore Collegiate Society.
The celebration has been featured in the BU Student paper The Daily Free Press. For the full article, please click here.
For video with highlights form the evening and interviews, please click here.
The event was also featured in BUToday here.
On February 24, 2015, the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, in collaboration with BUCSA, held one of its most exciting Inaugural Year Pardee Lectures, entitled “Following
“China is a very red place.”
You could be forgiven for hearing a phrase like that as a comment on Communism, or perhaps a nod to the Chinese flag. But spoken by David Lampton, director of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies, the statement takes on a different meaning.
“If you look at maps of the seismology of China, which measure geological activity on a color scale from blue to red, you can see that over modern history, China has had a disproportionate share of massive seismological events” said Lampton, at the most recent in the Pardee School Inaugural Series of lectures, entitled The Politics of Leadership in China.
Describing the life of China’s political leaders in this red place, Lampton conjures “a series of crises, and there are never the resources necessary to deal with them.”
Lampton was joined by Ezra Vogel, professor of the social sciences emeritus of Harvard University, and Joe Fewsmith, Pardee School director of Undergraduate Studies. The event was held Feb. 24 before a packed crowd at the BU Hillel House.
In introducing the speakers, Pardee School Dean Adil Najam referred to them as the ‘Three Tenors of China Studies.’
“These are very exciting speakers, and I can’t think of a better selection of scholars to comment on modern China,” Najam said. “We are delighted to welcome them.”
Of great concern to all three speakers were changes in the political style of China’s current President, Xi Jinping.
“Xi Jinping is a second generation leader, and he has tried to centralize power,” Vogel said. “While he is popular with many of China’s rural populace, the middle class is concerned about how many different offices he has brought under his charge, as well as clamping down on the press and civil liberties. It’s a brittle situation.”
All three speakers compared the current president to longtime leader Deng Xiaoping. While never holding the office of leader of the Communist Party, Deng Xiaoping nonetheless exerted enormous influence in crafting the second generation of Chinese leadership after the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong.
“One thing I think Xi Jinping has taken from Deng Xiaoping is trying to forge an identity as a strong leader and a reformer,” Vogel said. “But at the same time, the circumstances today are quite different.”
Those circumstances, which include a growing economy and middle class, a newer and more prominent role in international affairs, and an increasing desire for civil liberties and information access, have led to a leadership style that harkens back to earlier, more centralized power.
“Xi Jinping has become a strongman. His hands are on more levers than his immediate predecessors,” Lampton said. “But you have to wonder, can he stuff the toothpaste back in the tube? With more knowledge and globalization in the middle class, will they accept a stronger leader?”
The event included a question and answer session as well as a catered reception.
“China is an ever changing place, and you can study it for 40 years and all of a sudden something pops out of the woods and changes everything,” Fewsmith said. “We have over 100 years of collective experience in China studies and still we don’t find it an easy place to figure out.”
On December 4 and 5 2014 two dozen scholars from the US, Europe, Taiwan, and Vietnam convened at the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department at Harvard to discuss their drafts for an Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature 1000 BCE-900 CE. The workshop was generously sponsored by the Boston University Center for the Study of Asia (BUCSA), as well as the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation, the Harvard Asia Center, the Harvard-Yenching Institute, and the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.
The Handbook is co-edited by Wiebke Denecke (Boston University, Modern Languages and Comparative Literature and affiliated BUCSA faculty), Wai-yee Li (Harvard University, East Asian Languages and Civilizations), and Xiaofei Tian (Harvard University, East Asian Languages and Civilizations). It will compress essential knowledge and critical approaches to two thousand years of Chinese literary history between its book covers when published, as is currently planned, in 2016. Commissioned by Oxford University Press, this handbook is part of the Oxford Handbook Series that, in the words of the publisher, “advances an original conception of the field through a definitive collection of essays, each of which provides a survey of the current state of scholarly debate and an original argument about the future direction of research.”
The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature is a first-of-its-kind handbook that integrates issue-oriented, thematic, topical and cross-cultural approaches to the classical Chinese literary heritage with historical perspectives. It introduces both literature and institutions of literary culture, in particular court culture and manuscript culture, which shaped early and medieval Chinese literary production. Problematizing the gap between traditional concepts and modern revisionary definitions of literary categories it fosters critical awareness of how this has shaped the transmission and reception of literature and literary history. It discusses both canonical works and works that fall between the cracks of modern disciplinary divisions of “philosophy,” “religion,” “history,” and “literature.” In a special section devoted to “China and the World,” the handbook explores issues of translation and cultural exchange on China’s periphery and explicitly expands the modern nation-based concept of “Classical Chinese Literature” to the Chinese-style literatures produced in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. While recapturing the functioning of the East Asian “Sinographic sphere,” comprising cultures that traditionally relied on the Chinese script, it showcases the importance of Japan, Korea, and Vietnam for the study of Chinese literature. The lively discussions during the workshop were filled with both enthusiasm and anxiety over undertaking such a daunting project.
Ultimately, the Handbook also aims to enable a broader conversation between students of premodern literary cultures around the globe, from the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman Antiquity, to the world of Arabic and Persian literatures, Europe, and India. Many contributors to the handbook and senior scholars on a concluding panel devoted to the future of the field agreed that as (Western) “Classics” and “Medieval Studies” are going “global,” Chinese literature scholars will want to join and shape that conversation, reach broader audiences, and spearhead a new kind of comparatism that brings philologists of the world’s classical literary traditions into a mutually beneficial dialogue that can be the basis for a more global and transcultural concept and practice of “Classical Studies.”
Organized by Boston University Center for the Study of Asia (BUCSA), on Nov. 14, Boston University commemorated the 25th anniversary of Tian’anmen Square with a lecture and discussion on the aftermath of the violence which erupted when Chinese soldiers attacked protesters in Beijing in June of 1989.
To this day, no one is sure who he was – the man who stood, eye to barrel, before a convoy of Chinese tanks on a street outside Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square.
But that image – taken by AP photographer Jeff Widener just after the government crackdown that claimed the lives of as many as 1,000 democratic protesters and civilians – has become known worldwide as an enduring depiction of courage.
“I spent last year on leave living in China. I remember speaking with a colleague who was working on an oral history, learning stories she could not publish,” said Robert Weller, professor at the Boston University Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs. “She said, I haven’t told the truth since 1989. No one in this country has.”
The talk was moderated by Eugenio Menegon, Director of the Center for the Study of Asia,and presented by Weller, Joseph Fewsmith of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, and Rowena Xiaoqing He of Harvard University. The event was part of the Boston University International Education Week. It was sponsored by Santander Universities and attended by around 50 audience members.
There is more to the story. For more information, click here.
The Boston University Asian Studies Spring Reception took place on Monday, April 28, 2014 in the beautiful BU Castle on Bay State Road. The reception warmly welcomed friends of the BU Center for the Study of Asia (BUCSA) at the conclusion of the semester, including Asian Studies faculty across BU, visiting scholars, board members of the student organization ASIABU, representatives of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, and students in the Asian Studies programs with outstanding achievements. The reception, as is tradition, was generously hosted by BUCSA supporter and BU alum Al Petras, Senior Vice President at Bank of America and Senior Service Delivery Manager Technology Consultant for China Construction Bank.
BUCSA Director Eugenio Menegon highlighted the achievements BUCSA made over the past academic year, and proudly announced the publication of several books by BU faculty, including Wiebke Denecke’s Classical World Literatures: Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons, and Gina Cogan’s The Princess Nun: Bunchi, Buddhist Reform, and Gender in Early Edo Japan (see details about the publication of these books in this news piece.) Two BUCSA visiting researchers also published their work in the series BUCSA Occasional Papers on Asia: U.S. – China Engagement: Creating a Massachusetts Model for Study in China byGrant F. Rhode, and On the Anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s “Three Fors.” Thirty Years of School Reform in China by Charlotte Sanford Mason.
The academic year 2013-2014 was also a very fruitful year for students in the Asian studies programs at BU. The student organization ASIABU continued to do excellent work in promoting Asian culture among peer students, and two undergraduates in the Japanese language program (MLCL) won first and third place in the Japanese speech contest in Boston.
At the conclusion of this academic year, BUCSA looks forward to another fun-filled and productive year in Asian studies at Boston University, with the theme “Asia in Love” as a thread for events and activities in 2014-15. One of the highlights of the year will be the Spring 2015 BU Asia Film Week “Asia: Love and Other Obsessions.” BUCSA was awarded a grant from the BU Center for the Humanities (Project Director Prof. Cathy Yeh) for this festival, which will bring outstanding Asian films to the BU community. New synergies will also come from the affiliation of BUCSA with the new Pardee School of Global Studies, within its Division of Regional Studies. Please stay tuned and sign up for our weekly newsletter!
“China and the City”:
Chinese Students and Scholars discussion at Boston University
As part of its yearly theme “Asia and the City”, Boston University Center for the Study of Asia co-hosted with the BU Chinese Students and Scholars Association a public event on “China and the City” on November 23, 2013. This workshop discussed the challenges and opportunities of urbanism in China, and gathered around forty BU faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and BUCSA visiting scholars.
After introductions in the morning by Haisu Yuan, President of the BU Chinese Students and Scholars Association, and workshop coordinator Taiyi Sun (Ph.D. candidate in the BU Department of Political Science), Professors Eugenio Menegon (Director of Boston University Center for the Study of Asia) and Enrique Silva (Urban Affairs and City Planning, BU Metropolitan College) commented on a thought-provoking presentation by Professor Jinhua Zhao (Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT).
In his presentation, entitled “China’s Urbanization: Immense, Rapid, but Out of Sync – Is China an Outlier?” Zhao pointed out that China’s urbanization is similar to that in developed countries in terms of its level, its rate of change, its relationship with the economy, and its growth trajectory, following the historical trends of OECD countries. But China is indeed unique in comparison with other developing countries, in its scale and density, in its internal complexity and in its peculiar institutions, specifically the “hukou” (residence system) and land systems.
In order to make the event both intellectually stimulating and accessible to the general public, the program included a story telling section in addition to the academic panel. Story telling exists ubiquitously among almost all cultures and is one of the best ways to examine cities through a private, micro lens. The workshop, therefore, merged the public and private narratives and provided a fuller, experiential picture of cities in transition in China.
Six Chinese BU students and guests shared their stories on urbanization and their hometowns: Taiyi Sun (Hangzhou); Chen Cheng (Beijing), Xiaopei Luo (Chongqing), Juntao Zhang (Shenzhen), Jianying Zhu (Shanghai) and Yuxi Chang (Shenyang). Every participant was thrilled about the rapid developments in his or her hometown, but was also sad that a few special places and features of their cities, as recalled in their childhood memories, had vanished.
In his closing remark, Professor Menegon emphasized that local governments in China should protect the individuality of cities during urbanization, avoiding a homogenization of the urban landscape and a loss of cultural, architectural and social diversity.
The online Chinese TV channel Sinovision filmed parts of the event and broadcasted a Chinese-language service on the workshop (波大学生会与亚洲研究中心办论坛 探讨中国城市化进程), available at this link.
On September 25, Boston University’s Center for the Study of Asia (BUCSA) and the Asian Studies Initiative at Boston University (ASIABU) held the annual Asia Studies reception. The reception was a great success, with faculty and students from BU Asian Studies, BU administrators from Global Programs, Study Abroad and Alumni Relations, Boston’s Asian consular personnel, and fellow undergraduate and graduate students as guests. The reception was introduced by the Director of Boston University Center for the Study of Asia, Eugenio Menegon, and featured the student group ASIABU, who cohosted the event. The highlight of the reception was the wonderful live music performance from Youth Ambassadors Taiwan ROC, which showcased the beauty of oriental music. With live music, Asian cuisine, making new friends and catching up with old ones through engaging conversations, the Asia Studies reception concludes in a lively atmosphere, looking forward to another fruitful academic year in various areas of Asian Studies.
Prof. Wiebke publishes volume on the Long History of the Concept of “Literature” in Japan, a conference volume on the changing faces of the concept of “literature” in East Asia and Japan, edited by Wiebke Denecke (BU, MLCL) and Kimiko Kono (Waseda University, Director of the Institute of Japanese Classics, Tokyo).
Professor Wiebke writes,
I wanted to thank BUCSA once more for the very generous support of the conference I co-organized with a Waseda colleague last summer in Tokyo. It was a wonderfully productive event (we already published a volume on the notion of “literature” in Japan, in good part based on the conference contributions. BUCSA’s contribution is gratefully acknowledged in our preface). Also, in response to the success, my colleague Kono Kimiko and I got a contract for a three-volume series on the history and future of the notion of literature/bun in Japan and East Asia, so last year’s event was really very fruitful.
This volume is the first attempt to recapture the adventurous history and future critical potential of the Chinese concept of wen 文 (Japanese pronunciation bun), which encompasses a broad range of meanings ranging from “pattern” and “refinement” to “writing,” “civilization,” and “literature. The concept of wen/bun has played an exceptionally prominent and manifold role in the cultural history of East Asia. The character for wen, 文, already appears on Chinese oracle bones used for divination and in bronze inscriptions from the 12th century BCE on, where it seems to refer to patterned animal fur or tattooed human skin. The rich connotations this concept accumulated over a period of almost two millennia in China were quickly adopted in Early Japan. However, with the Meiji Period (1868-1912) the particular relation between bun and the East Asian traditional notion of elite “Letters” changed dramatically, as “bun-gaku” (bun-learning) became the standard translation for the contemporary European idea of “literature,” in particular for fiction and belles-lettres, which had traditionally a low standing in the East Asian genre hierarchy. Nowadays the Western concept of literature has overwritten the traditional concept of “Letters” in Japan and we need to invest much effort in historical research to recover that lost world of wen/bun and reflect on what it meant in traditional East Asia and what it can contribute to critical discourse in contemporary literary studies around the globe.
Based on regular cyber-conferences of the two editors over the past couple of years and an international symposium held in Tokyo in July 2012, the volume presents articles by 19 scholars from Japan, China, the US, and Europe. Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences and Center for the Study of Asia generously sponsored the workshop and made this volume possible.
From April 7-9 2013, the National Chinese Language Conference (NCLC), which is “dedicated to encouraging dialogue in the field of Chinese language education and ensuring wide-scale success,” had their 6th annual conference in Boston.
Boston University took part in two panels at the Conference. The first was entitled Next Steps for Our Chinese Language Students: Study In and About China at the University Level.
In this session, panelists will draw from Boston University’s programs of study to demonstrate the continuity of experiences available to students who are already interested in China and the Chinese language. Members of the panel will explore the breadth of programs available for such students at the university level in the following areas: the value and rationale of study abroad in China (in this case, Shanghai), Chinese language study and subject areas, and the resources of the Center for the Study of Asia. A student will speak about his experience in transitioning from high school to college and then to Shanghai in pursuit of his interests. Participants will leave with an understanding of what opportunities lie ahead for their China-interested and Chinese-proficient college-bound students. With Joe Fewsmith, Weijia Huang, Charlotte Mason, Debra Terzian, Lee Veitch.
In a report from Charlotte Mason, a visiting researcher with BUCSA and moderator of the panel:
The B.U. panel’s presentation at NCLC encapsulated the college experience for a prospective student from high school already interested in Chinese language, culture, and history. It did this by drawing generalizations from B.U.’s program.
Lee Veitch (Student Ambassador for Boston University Study Abroad Diplomats) said that he felt well prepared by his Chinese teacher at Bronx Science for college level Chinese, but returned to the school later to suggest that simplified characters and pin yin be used. He described how study abroad in Shanghai made him a more focused, more confident, and more engaged student, active in Asiabu. He feels confident in finding work in his field of International Relations.
Debra Terzian provided an overview and rationale for study abroad, and described B.U.’s effort to design different models of program at Fudan to attract increasing numbers of students in different majors and at different levels of Chinese language study.
Huang Weijia suggested how Chinese teachers can better prepared their students for college level Chinese, and suggested that better articulation of Chinese levels between schools and college is necessary, as well as differentiated materials.
Joe Fewsmith explained that, in this age of globalization, it is increasingly important to engage with Asia to understand issues and solve problems in a world context. He explained that it is a trend in large research universities to create centers for the study of Asia helps to improve communication across disciplines, provide a greater depth of experience for students, and generate more enthusiasm for the field. He said that students who major in Asian Studies (and related fields) and who are proficient in Chinese have many opportunities in the job market: in business, in diplomacy, in academia, and in all professions.
Meanwhile, in the China Across Subject Areas: The Career Connection panel, Boston University professor Robert E. Murowchick, Assistant Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology and Director of the International Center for East Asian Archaeology and Cultural History (ICEAACH) was speaking about Asia throughout the curricula and about opportunities to work in field related to the study of Asia/China.
As more and more U.S. students develop high levels of proficiency in Chinese, it becomes ever more necessary to understand the connections between Chinese language learning, other academic content, and career and professional development. It is simply not enough to learn the language or engage with the culture. Students must integrate the study of the Chinese language with a broader vision for their academic and professional interests and their long-term career goals. The participants in this panel are leading voices in the field who have worked with students at all levels to broaden and deepen their understanding of and engagement with China, and to connect language learning with the development of other critical skills. We will hear from representatives of fields and perspectives as diverse as archaeology, engineering and business, and explore the ways in which learning Chinese is helping students to create new and exciting career trajectories. Introduced by Julia de la Torre, Executive Director, Primary Source. Moderated by Sara Judge McCalpin, President, China Institute in America. Speakers: Sigrid Berka, Executive Director, International Engineering Program, University of Rhode Island; Der-lin Chao, Director, Chinese Flagship Program, Hunter College, City University of New York (and President, Chinese Language Teachers Association); Robert E. Murowchick, Director, International Center for East Asian Archaeology and Cultural History, Boston University.
Our Asian Studies Presenters and the American Institute of Indian Studies Board meeting
Several faculty and graduate students attended the Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in San Diego, March 21-24, 2013.
Marié Abe, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, Presenter,“Shaking Bodies on Shaky Ground: Henoko Peace Music Festa and the Anti-US Military Base Struggles in Okinawa”
In February 2007, on Henoko Beach in northern Okinawa, a group of musicians held the first “Peace Music Festa” in protest against the construction of a new offshore U.S. military base. A constellation of various musical sounds and political aspirations resounded across the contested beach, simultaneously offering a critique of the imperial politics that has valorized Okinawan difference and celebrating the very difference through diverse musical programming that evoked “multicultural Japan.” This paper offers an ethnographic analysis of the shifting strategies of the festival as it continued annually in the subsequent years. I locate the efficacy of the festival at the intersection of the politics of pleasure, which enables translocal alliances among activists from all over Okinawa as well as mainland Japan, and the politics of survival, which emphasizes the well-being of the economically marginalized local community. Focusing on the performance of these strategies at the Peace Music Festa, this paper considers the possibilities and constraints offered by the rhetoric of multicultural Japan within the specific struggle in Henoko. I will show that while the articulation of a contested site, musical sounds, and the emphasis on conviviality at the Festa enabled a new modality of political expression in Henoko, mobilization of Okinawan difference posed limitations on the organizing efforts for the musicians. Further, I posit that the festival made audible not only the ambivalence of Okinawan difference, but also the internal differences within Okinawa that are often elided in the narrative of Okinawan marginality within the nation state.
Andrew Barton Armstrong, PhD (BU Anthropology), Presenter, “The Japanese ‘Ghetto-Gangsta’: Neighborhood and Experiential Authenticity in Kansai Hip-Hop Performance”
My research treats emergent, outspoken class consciousness among performers of what I call “ghetto-gangsta” hip hop in Japan’s Kansai region. Musicians, including Anarchy from the public housing projects in Mukaijima (Kyoto) and Shingo Nishinari from the day-laborer neighborhood of Nishinari Ward (Osaka), are earning prestige in spite of, but also in part because of their humble origins. My ethnography of Kansai hip hop culture demonstrates that “marginality” is a source of prestige for performers who embody keywords including “ghetto,” “gangsta,” and “Korean,” and who critique Japanese society using language typically associated with right-wing ultranationalists (uyoku). These musicians trump the “authenticity” card, the critique of cultural plagiarism, because they really have experienced economic hardship and social stigmatization, and because in some cases they really are gangsters (yakuza). Their lyrics represent marginal identities that are defined by socioeconomic status and ethnic identity, but the MCs speak of marginality in terms of neighborhood of origin. In a society where people rarely are willing to speak openly about socioeconomic status and ethnicity, neighborhood can function as a proxy and thereby confer experiential authenticity to the musicians. My presentation will analyze the ambivalence that local musicians express towards their neighborhood of origin, and show that they view “Japan” with equally mixed feelings. In doing so I demonstrate that Japan is far less “other” than has often been presumed in anthropological studies.
Joe Fewsmith, Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Presenter, “The Logic and Limits of Political Reform in China”
The idea of incremental political reform has been both assumed and advocated by reformers in China for many years. In the late 1990s and first part of the first decade in the new century there was reason to believe that this vision might become reality: there were hundreds, even thousands, of experiments throughout China that were designed to introduce some measure of openness, usually under the rubric of “inner-party democracy.” A convergence of interests between some in the central government and those on the front lines in the localities lay behind these initiatives. Many of them were widely publicized and set as models for others to follow. Notions of “path dependence” suggest that this progress would be self-sustaining, bringing ever greater returns in terms of better governance and social stability. Unfortunately this has not happened. Although there are still experiments of various sorts, one can say that the thrust of incremental reform has stalled and that the old hierarchical system has reasserted itself, leaving a variety of social problems to accumulate. Drawing on investigations of many reforms throughout China, this paper will explore why the path of incremental political reform has not, to date, been successful and the problems that creates.
Sarah Frederick, Co-Associate Chair of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature, Associate Professor of Japanese, Discussant
Julian Go, Associate Professor of Sociology, Session Organizer, “Asia-Pacific Islands in the Sun of Empire”
Eugenio Menegon, Associate Professor of History, Presenter, “Who was using whom? Europeans, Western Commodities, and the Politics of Gift-Giving in Qing Beijing”
In the early to mid-Qing period around thirty Western European Catholic missionaries lived in Beijing, partly employed in technical services, and partly engaged in religious work. Starting with the Yongzheng reign (1724), Christianity was forbidden empire wide. Yet these foreigners, with semi-official permission, continued missionizing, maintained a network of churches, and acquired real estate in the city and its environs to support their activities. Besides producing luxury objects for the court, the priests also imported Western commodities (tobacco; chocolate; wine; clocks and other mechanical devices; glass objects etc.) for their own use, as exotic gifts, and to resell on the capital’s market. The emperor and the Qing court allowed the Europeans to remain in Beijing and tolerated their religious activities in exchange for their exotic commodities and their services, including those useful for important state-building projects. The European missionaries used their skills and a relentless gift-giving strategy not only to please their main imperial patron, but also to create a network of support among princes, ministers, employees of the Imperial Household Department, eunuchs, and Beijing commoners. Using financial ledgers and reports preserved in European and Chinese archives, this paper will explore the two faces of the medal, asking an apparently simple question: “who was using whom?” Luxury objects and commodities in fact became the currency of negotiation between divergent interests, contributing to weaken Qing imperial prohibitions and laws, and to create ad hoc arrangements tolerated by the emperor, and benefiting the palace personnel, the missionaries, and their communities.
Teena Purohit, Assistant Professor of Religion, Presenter, “The Aga Khan Case of 1866”
In the famous Aga Khan Case of 1866, the British colonial court officially redefined the Khojas’ caste group as part of the “Ismaili Muslim sect.” This paper analyzes how the beliefs and teachings of the Ismaili community were firmly embedded within the diverse cultural practices indigenous to South Asia. These complex identifications were undermined and reshaped as a consequence of the court’s interpretation of sectarianism. The paper offers readings from the devotional texts of the Ismailis to illustrate how the heterogeneous forms of practices peculiar to the vernacular history of Islam in early modern South Asia were displaced by the culturally alien discourse of sect and religious identity in the colonial period.
Robert Weller, Chair of Anthropology, Professor of Anthropology, Presenter, “Religious Pluralism in Chinese Policy and Practice”
Religious pluralism in China is part of the larger problem of how to deal with diversities of all kinds, with those differences of category and qualities of boundary that are so much a part of human life. Policy solutions to these problems usually attempt to clarify and control the boundaries between groups through what might be called processes of notation—adopting laws, statutes, and regulations. The first part of this paper traces the evolution of modern Chinese policies toward religion and the kind of vision they create for a plural society. The space of shared experience beyond this notational effort, however, can be just as important in understanding how diversity can survive successfully. Part of China’s current adaptability is its ability to accept a mismatch between notation and shared experience to create a form of informal governance with its own internal tensions, but which has delivered increased religious space for most of its population. This form of governance involves officials turning a blind eye to religious behavior beyond the law as long as adherents pay lip service to the regulatory world. The paper concludes with some thoughts about comparative situations where such “blind-eye” governance become important.
Frank Korom, BU representative, Board of Trustees meeting of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS)
Frank Korom (Religion and Anthropology) attended as BU representative the annual Board of Trustees meeting of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS), held during the AAS Conference, and reports on the proceedings:
The AIIS is without a doubt the major funder of educational enterprises in India. It supports both language study in India as well as junior and senior research fellowships, with short- and long-term grants ranging in duration from 1-3 months and 6-9 months respectively. Formerly, much of the operating budget came from a rupee fund handled by the Smithsonian, but this money has been drawn down over the years, so now new sources of revenue are being sought through aggressive fundraising campaigns both in the US and in India. Investing also continues, but the recession and the current state of the economy has taken its toll on AIIS, as it has on other such operations (e.g., Fulbright), which has led to budget and staff cuts. Despite this, over 2000 fellowships were awarded in the previous academic year (consisting of both language and research fellowships).
Due to the decrease in operating budget, the major issue that immediately confronts the AIIS is how to generate more income to sustain operations in India that support the research of American and Indian scholars. To this end, large investments were made in facility renovations, which will eventually generate funds in the long term through rent income. In the meantime, however, the budget is very tight, which means that there may be cutbacks, such as those implemented by Fulbright and other federal granting agencies. The cutbacks might consist of eliminating spousal support or reducing the duration of grants. A last resort might be to reduce the amount of the monthly stipend provided to junior and senior scholars. It is most likely that senior scholars would be hit the hardest, since a major goal of the AIIS is to train future scholars of India through language training, then doctoral research. The Board felt that this was a reasonable move.
As for BU, we have already benefitted from our membership with AIIS. We have had students attend summer language programs in India, and a few faculty have applied for research fellowships.. However, with the growth of South Asian Studies at BU and the new India Initiative launched by the president of the university, it is likely that more and more faculty and students will avail themselves of the benefits afforded by AIIS membership.