On Sensing the Sacred, we delve into the past and present of religion, politics, and society in South Asia, highlighting the latest academic research through conversations with leading scholars. A new podcast from the Center for Contemporary South Asia at the Watson Institute at Brown University, hosted by Finnian M.M. Gerety.
Islam and Political Imagination in Early Modern Afghanistan: Tanvir Aktar Ahmed
The Mughal Empire was an Islamic dynasty that ruled much of South Asia from the 16th-19th centuries. It was one of the grandest empires the world has ever known. But the Mughals did not rely on military might alone to consolidate their rule. They also used works of literature—stories that evoked peoples, cultures, and far-flung landscapes. Through stories, regional factions competed for influence at the Mughal court—and sought to define themselves. My guest today is Tanvir Aktar Ahmed, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at Brown University. Tanvir works at the intersection of Islam and politics in early modern Central Asia. He’s currently finishing his dissertation, "Radical Shadows of God: Islam and Sociopolitical Dissent, 1240-1600." We focus on a literary compendium from the Mughal era which narrates the often supernatural adventures of saints, power-brokers, and rebels.
Our conversation focuses on Ni‘mat Allah Harawi’s Afghan Treasury (c. 1630; Tārīkh-i Khān Jahānī wa Makhzan-i Afghānī, ed. Sayyid Muḥammad Imām al-Dīn. Dhaka: Zīkū Parīs, 1932).
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Religion, Democracy, and Hindu Nationalism: Ashutosh Varshney
In the past decade, India has seen the resurgence of Hindu nationalism, a political ideology of “Hindu-ness,” expressed by the neo-Sanskrit term Hindutva. Hindutva envisions India—a country where Hindus are the majority in terms of numbers—as a rightfully Hindu nation; Hindu nationalists feel threatened by minority groups, especially India’s Muslims. Riding this momentum is the current prime minister, Narendra Modi, who’s fanned the flames of identity politics throughout his career and now governs with a Hindutva worldview, with policies that critics call anti-Muslim. To learn more, I sat down with Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Brown University, where he also directs the Center for Contemporary South Asia. With Indian elections underway—and in a moment when ethnic nationalisms are on the upswing around the world—I wanted to talk with Ashu about how religion has contributed to this Hindu nationalist turn.
Find out more about the this podcast and the Center for Contemporary South Asia at our show page. You can check out other podcasts from the Watson Institute here. We’re eager for your feedback and support: please subscribe and then rate the show on your favorite platforms so that others can find us. You can email us at email@example.com.
This episode refers to political acronyms, specialized terms, public figures, and recent events, including:
-Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, intellectual father of Hindu nationalism who coined the term Hindutva
-pitṛbhūmi and punyabhūmi, neo-Sanskrit terms for “fatherland” and “holy land”
-BJP Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party
-RSS Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, leading Hindu nationalist volunteer organization
-OBC Other backward class, bureaucratic label for socially disadvantaged castes and groups
-SBM Swacch Bharat Mission, Modi’s sanitation and hygiene initiative
-ahiṃsā “non-violence” in Sanskrit
-BSP Bahujan Samaj Party, made up of lower caste groups
-SP Samajwadi Party, socialist party
-Dravidian movement, advocates of ethnic identity made up of Dravidian language-speakers groups in South India
-Yogi Adityanath, Hindu monk and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh
-CAA Citizenship Amendment Act, extending to citizenship to religious minorities (excluding Mulsims)
-pogrom, the massacre of ethnic or religious group
-Farmers’ Protests, ongoing protests to reform agricultural regulations
-Bangalore climate activist Disha Ravi was arrested in February 2021
-IAS Indian Administrative Service
-JNU Jawaharlal Nehru University
Some additional references of interest:
-On religious leaders in Indian politics, Prof. Varshney cites Rajesh Pradhan, When the Saints Go Marching In: The Curious Ambivalence of Religious Sadhus in Recent Politics in India (Black Swan, 2014).
-On “Sanskritization,” see M.N. Srinivas, “A Note on Sanskritization and Westernization,” The Far Eastern Quarterly 15.4 (1956): 481-96.
-As of 2021, Freedom House has rated India as “partly free.”
-On “democratic backsliding,” see Prof. Varshney’s recent column for the Indian Express.
Sensing the Sacred Trailer
Welcome to Sensing the Sacred, a new podcast from the Center for Contemporary South Asia at the Watson Institute at Brown University. There’s so much fascinating scholarship about South Asian religions across disciplines—religious studies, history, anthropology, critical theory, political science. With Sensing the Sacred, we aim to bridge these boundaries and bring you interdisciplinary conversations on a wide range of topics. I hope you’ll join me, Finnian Gerety, as I talk to colleagues from around the world about Hindu nationalism, street shrines in India, stories of saints in Afghanistan, mantras and astrology in Jainism—just to name a few. Subscribe now so that you can tune into our debut episodes, launching on all major platforms this spring.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Academia at its best
Really thoughtful and great conversations centered on current and historical South Asian interests. It’s so great to listen and learn about complicated issues from brilliant thinkers. Thanks to the Center for contemporary South Asia at Brown University for sharing. :) I’m excited to hear more!