Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Delhi Branch Office



Keynote Lecture 'Sublime aftershocks: Sociological reason in the aftermath of an earthquake in Gujarat, western India', 3rd March 2011, MMB
Thursday, 3rd March 2011, 6 pm

Siddharta Hall

Max Mueller Bhavan

Dr. Edward Simpson                                 


Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology

School of Oriental and African Studies

University of London

This lecture is the keynote to the workshop 'The transculturality  of historical disasters: Governance and the materialisation of glocalisation' organised by the Junior Research Group 'Cultures of Disaster' in cooperation with the Cluster Liaison Office and Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi.


An earthquake is a distinct kind of catastrophe, which history, comparative literature and the ethnography from Gujarat suggests demands particular kinds of explanation. Such explanations are typically organised around the theme of sin, as well as other provocations of the divine order of the gods. Unlike situations of mass violence, the blame for disaster is not projected outwards onto ‘others’ but inwards on one’s ‘self’. To blame others would be to grant power and legitimacy to their gods. In this lecture, I examine the structures of the blame narratives found in Gujarat. I conclude: there are significant similarities in the ways people of different religions cast blame and attribute agency in the region. Secondly, those affected by the disaster use social memory as a form of collective reason to explain the catastrophe; as they do so, they render the extraordinary ordinary. Finally, the cleavages and ruptures evident in such explanations strongly resemble those that make society itself and, therefore, explanations can in fact be seen as attempts at understanding the experience of living through a disaster.

About the speaker:

Edward Simpson is senior lecturer in social anthropology at the Centre for South Asian Studies, SOAS in London. He is interested in the anthropologies of history, religion, and natural disaster in India. He is reviews editor for the journal Contemporary South Asia and co-editor of a book series called Society and History in the Indian Ocean, published jointly with Hurst and Columbia University Press.

Posted on 25 Feb 2011
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