New video presents research results on the cultural significance of water spaces in India

Since Harald Lesch and Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim have become omnipresent, it is nothing new that scientists present their research on YouTube. Complex topics from space research, physics, biology, chemistry and technology are often explained in corresponding videos. Humanities scholars, on the other hand, are considered less YouTube-savvy. One exception is the research group „Religion and Urbanity“ at the Max Weber College of the University of Erfurt, which is currently presenting a new film on YouTube that deals with life around water in India.

In this video, Dr Sara Keller, who has organised an exhibition and a workshop on this topic, introduces us to the fascinating world of images in India and explains the cultural significance of water spaces in India on the basis of three thematic complexes (rituals, architecture, femininity). In addition to scholars, local artists who have dealt with the topic also have their say.

„We decided to use YouTube as a medium to give a younger audience an insight into foreign worlds, because in an increasingly globalised world it is important to get authentic impressions – beyond the clichés you have picked up from Bollywood films, for example,“ Sara Keller explains her motivation.

If you want to learn more about life around water in India, you can find the entertaining film here:

Anne Murphy presents a working paper on ‚The Possibility of a Punjabi Urban Imaginary‘

There is a saying one hears, upon arrival in Lahore, Pakistan: “Lahore na vekhia, jammia nahi”: “One hasn’t been born, until one has seen Lahore.” The sentiment this statement carries undergirds this paper, to consider the urban literary imaginaries that are both present, and missing, in our understanding of Punjabi language cultural production in the decades following the traumatic division of the Punjab region between the nation-states of India and Pakistan at decolonization in 1947, which was accompanied by catastrophic violence. A lesser discussed impact of Partition’s violence was the division it entailed linguistically and creatively. Although there is ample literature addressing how Partition has been addressed, described, and expressed in creative terms, consideration of Partition’s impact on writing and language themselves, in the act of expression, has received little sustained attention. This essay enters this area of exploration, to consider a possible urban imaginary that persists, and is simultaneously thwarted, by this international border, and how a kind of cosmopolitan and shared religiosity remains central to the formation of an urban imaginary on both sides of the border: in Lahore, the urban heart of Punjab that was ceded to Pakistan, and in Delhi, which became home to so many refugees at Partition that “Delhi was transformed,” as William Dalrymple put it in his travelogue of Delhi, City of Djinns, “from a small administrative capital of 900,000 people to a Punjabi-speaking metropolis half the size of London” (1992, 44). A close reading of select works reveals surprising parallels in work on both sides of the border, even as the border continues to divide, and allows for consideration of a kind of aspirational urbanity as an analytical tool for understanding cultural production along such lines, drawing on Rau’s (2020) discussion of this idea.

Raminder Kaur presents a working paper on ‚Sacred Cities: A Sacerology of the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, India‘

In this paper, I adopt interdisciplinary perspectives to develop a sacerology of how the sacral flows on and through the land, and that then influences presence in the place. Departing from solely anthropogenic perspectives, such perspectives provide ontological glimpses into other worlds. There is a radical beyond that evades rationalisation and compartmentalisation while being central to human experience and existence even if they be located in the urban. With a focus on the Harmandir Sahib, otherwise known as the Golden Temple, in the Indian city of Amritsar, I elaborate on four main registers of engagements or ‘quantum qualities’ that change according to place, person and phenomena. These contingent categories are foundational, validatory, everyday and tapestry.

Exhibition opening: India. Life around water

Water opens up many living spaces in India: spiritual purification, social interaction, travel and everyday household management. Interested people can experience these different spaces in the photo exhibition „INDIA. Life on the Water“ in the Augustinerkirche from 7 to 8 July. The exhibition is organised by the KFG „Religion and Urbanity. Reciprocal Formations“ (FOR 2779) of the Max-Weber-Kolleg of the University of Erfurt and can be visited during church opening hours. Admission is free.

The photo exhibition, curated by Sara Keller, invites visitors to discover the many dimensions of water in India. There, water is not only an important element of livelihood, it also carries crucial spiritual and religious significance. As the main means of purification, water is an essential component on the path to Mokṣa (मोक्ष or liberation). The spaces associated with the water reflect this multidimensionality: they are at once spaces of female conviviality, colourful and dynamic environments, and backdrops to a refined architecture. The 26 photographs explore moments and experiences around the themes of ritual, femininity, architecture and the environment.

The exhibition is in German and English, and there is an audio guide. It takes place in the context of the conference „Accessing Water in the South Asian City“, organised by the KFG „Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations“. The research group is based at the Max-Weber-Kolleg of the University of Erfurt and has been funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation) since 2018. The researchers are investigating how urbanity and religion have influenced each other throughout history, especially in Europe and South Asia.

New publication: „Owning Land, Being Women“

Under the title „Owning Land, Being Women. Inheritance and Subjecthood in India.“ De Gruyter has now published the dissertation of Amrita Mondal, who is researching the property rights of Indian women at the Max-Weber-Kollege of the University of Erfurt.

„Owning Land, Being Women“ enquires into the processes that establish inheritance as a unique form of property relation in law and society. It focuses on India, examining the legislative processes that led to the 2005 amendment of the Hindu Succession Act 1956, along with several interconnected welfare policies. Scholars have understood these Acts as a response to growing concerns about women’s property rights in developing countries.

In re-reading these Acts and exploring the wider nexus of Indian society in which the legislation was drafted, this study considers how questions of family structure and property rights contribute to the creation of legal subjects and demonstrates the significance of the politico-economic context of rights formulation. On the basis of an ethnography of a village in West Bengal, this book brings the moral axis of inheritance into sharp focus, elucidating the interwoven dynamics of bequest, distribution of family wealth and reciprocity of care work that are integral to the logic of inheritance. It explains why inheritance rights based on the notion of individual property rights are inadequate to account for practices of inheritance.

Mondal shows that inheritance includes normative structures of affective attachment and expectations, i.e., evaluatively-charged imaginaries of the future that coordinate present practices. These insights pose questions of the dominant resource-based conceptualisation of inherited property in the debate on women’s empowerment. In doing so, this work opens up a line of investigation that brings feminist rights discourse into conversation with ethics, enriching the liberal theory of gender justice.

Amrita Mondal
Owning Land, Being Women
Inheritance and Subjecthood in India

(series: De Gruyter Studies in Global Asia, 2)
De Gruyter,2021
ISBN: 9783110690361 (Print)
ISBN: 9783110690491 (E-Book)
265 pages
64,85 EUR

Liza von Grafenstein presents a working paper on ‚Urbanization – Opportunity or Challenge for Child Health in India‘

While a country is undergoing the transformative process of urbanization, undernutrition, overweight, and micronutrient deficiencies are often present at the same time. Due to limited data the literature hardly examines whether urbanization is an opportunity or a challenge for child health. This study contributes to the literature by investigating the ambiguous effects of urbanization on child nutrition treating urbanization not as a dichotomy and focusing on India where the triple burden of malnutrition is prevalent. Using NFHS-4 survey data and the urbanisation classification of Global Human Settlement Layer project, I describe the opportunities and challenges urbanization brings about for children between 2 and 5 years of age. As this study sheds light onto the ambivalent role of urbanization, policy makers will be able to target public health interventions more effectively.

Here you can find more information about Liza von Grafenstein.

Qudsiya Contractor gives a working paper on ‚The teacher and the aalim – Religious imagination in the making of public Muslims in a Mumbai slum‘

This paper looks at how the objectification of religious imagination
influences Muslim’s coping of their changing worldly realities. It looks at
the role of new religious intellectuals in addressing the shrinking Muslim
presence in the public sphere in urban India through newer styles of
religious leadership embedded in a broader understanding of the religious
imagination itself. These new religious intellectuals among the Muslim
poor I argue see the role of secular education coupled with a religious
imagination as essential in order to protect one’s self interests as a Muslim
yet be integral to a larger and diverse public. Islamic knowledge and
behavioural conduct combined with secular education is hence seen as a
way of fashioning the lives of the modern Muslim subject. In other words,
embracing modernity with Islamic values is seen as a way of refashioning
the Muslim self.

Reshma Radhakrishnan gives a working paper on ‚‘Strategic Accommodation’ of Diversities: gender norms and identities beyond the binaries‘

Gender diversity is an area that has come to be more and more complex over the years with the troubling of the binary understanding of gender. Queer studies/movements effectively question and complicate the concept, challenging the idea of heteronormativity. This project is concerned with the processes of ‘accommodation’ of gender diversities and heterogeneity. Engaging with the queer movement and queer politics of Kerala, a south-Indian state often praised as one of the most developed among the Indian states in many respects, I look at the case of trans-women of Kerala vis-à-vis the rest of the country, and extend the analysis in the context of the European/transnational experiences. This paper is a small step in this direction. In this paper, I primarily try to introduce the project, contextualise the study and engage with the question of visibility. I engage with the complexity of ‘visibility‘ and critiques to the fights for visibility, and suggest that it has more to do with achieving ‘normalcy‘ than an imposed visibility or hypervisibility.

Sara Keller is presents a workin paper on ‚A model of water topography in the Western Indian city (10th -16th century) ‚

In arid and monsoon-dependant Western India, harvesting and managing water is a necessity. Thus, monuments and modified landscapes related to irrigation, water storing and water worship represent a large share of Indian architectural heritage. Yet this rich corpus and its attached hydrological knowledge awaits to be fully recognized: So far administrative efforts and scientific studies focus on the most visible elements, especially stepwells and other dug facilities.

Inspired by archaeological observations and historical data, my paper proposes to have a fresh look at the hydraulic elements of the medieval city in order to draw a comprehensive chart of the water resources and water infrastructures available in the urban context. My argument rehabilitates the lake and underlines its crucial function in plain regions depending on the sufficient refill of aquifers. The Solanki city of Western India, and in its continuity the Vaghela and Sultanate city, is disposing of a broad panel of waters capable of meeting the needs of multiple religious and profane activities (hydro-diversity). The generous waterscape and its multifold developments reflect on functions of sociability and religiosity in the city. Water appears as an essential identity marker of urbanity.

Sanam Roohi gives a working paper on ‚Telugu associations in the US: Caste differentiation and diasporic politics in a transregionally connected social field‘

American Telugu associations, built as a cultural platform to unite spatially dispersed Telugu diaspora have become key political intermediaries linking the US with Andhra and Telangana’s political landscape. Although the term Telugu point to their larger linguistic basis of membership, the caste character of these associations is reflected in the way particular communities exercise control of these associations and the alignments of these associations with caste affiliated political parties in India. In this paper I argue that these diasporic Telugu organisations are performing the role of caste associations, albeit in a refashioned way: as in colonial times, they work to make caste relevant, but now in a globalising milieu. Caste associations, a product of colonial modernity and increasing urbanisation have worked for the dynamically defined ‘interests’ of the community, which changes over time. While in colonial times, caste associations worked to unite sub-jatis, achieve upward mobility in the caste hierarchy, and wrest concessions from the British government, in post-independence era, their tryst with democratic politics have been lauded by scholars. With transnational migration and a sense of disintegration of community and cultural values among migrants in the USA, I argue that it is organizations like TANA and ATA that take up the project of building caste based community cohesiveness transnationally even as they attempt to become political mediators in local politics in India. In doing so, associational politics create a transnational social field where carefully crafted and performed caste differentiation between the two major caste groups – Kammas and Reddys pan out. Whereas Reddys and Kammas often see each other as opponents or rivals, they also regard themselves as the only two legitimate caste groups who can represent Telugus both in America and in Andhra. Therefore, the associational politics in the diaspora also point to how Reddy-Kamma rivalry has subsumed the political possibilities of other caste groups within a trans-regionally connected social field.