Current Doctoral Theses
Chaiti Basu - Panchu Thakur: Indranath Bandyopadhyay’s Response to the Colonial Cultural Encounter in 19th Century Bengal
My work attempts to trace the Bengali satire of the late 19th century,
especially concentrating on Indranath Bandyopadhyay and his works. Though
Indranath was a representative of the orthodox group of writers of his
time, he himself was a product of the colonial education system. His
opinions and thoughts found adequate expression in the figure of the
popular narrator, Panchu Thakur, one of his many pseudonyms.
Indranath is also believed by many literary historians to be the author of the first satirical novel in Bengali. Keeping in mind these considerations, his works seem to be apt for analyzing the reactions of, and repercussions among the middle class Bengali intelligentsia, especially of the more conservative social strata, towards the constant cultural flows taking place during the colonial rule in late 19th century Bengal.
Team Member:Chaiti Basu
Daniela Cappello - Obscenity and Desecration: Practices of Dissent in the Bengali Hungry Generation movement of 1960s
My project focuses on practices of obscenity in the Bengali
anti-establishment literature of the 1960s, most notably on the Hungry
Generation Movement (1961-1965). Assuming that the “aesthetics of
obscenity” was seen as a form of political resistance by many
anti-establishment writers and artists of Western counter-cultures, this
study aims at showing how some practices of dissent were used in
post-Independence Bengali literary culture to shape an alternative identity
for the Bengali urban intellectual. Moreover, this very debate on obscenity
and ensuing censorship made space for a wider discussion on freedom of
speech which filled political newspapers and reviews throughout India.
Despite the alleged “indigeneity” of the movement’s background, the study
wants to show how the Hungryalists actually “filtered” through their
writings some of the most typical practices of Western counter-cultures, as
was the case for obscenity, in order to break with the Bengali cultural
The study will focus on the Bengali Hungry Generation movement by investigating its “little magazines” and other kinds of small publications (i.e. bulletin, leaflets, anthologies) which were seen as an alternative cultural practice intended to reshape the Calcutta postcolonial literary space. These little publications represented in fact the only press promoting new literature and socio-political protest whereas the big publishing industry remained silent due to government censorship. The Hungryalist movement exemplifies the wave of postmodern experimental writings of the 1960s – which was widespread in little magazines – attempting to subvert the urban (Calcutta) cultural establishment that was still imbued with colonial influences. Despite the trial that sentenced the authors to jail for obscenity in their poetry, the movement had a great impact on the shaping of literary counter-cultures in Bengal. The research therefore raises questions about the much debated search for a postcolonial cultural identity which constantly evolved throughout the decades after the Independence of India. Following this assumption and using written, oral and visual sources, I intend to explore this subversive literary culture of post-Independence Bengal.
Team Member:Daniela Cappello
Arian Hopf - Die Dynamiken des Religionsbegriffs im kolonialzeitlichen Südasien - Eine Untersuchung der Aligarh-Bewegung und ihrer Auseinandersetzung mit christlicher Mission und Wissenschaft (Arbeitstitel)
Die Untersuchung der Aligarh-Bewegung, die in der zweiten Hälfte des 19.
Jahrhunderts durch Sayyid Ahmad Khan gegründet wurde und sich durch eine
intensive Auseinandersetzung mit der christlichen Mission und der
Wissenschaft auszeichnet, steht im Fokus dieses Projekts. Sowohl Mission
als auch Wissenschaft wurden als Bedrohung für den Islam wahrgenommen. Die
Aligarh-Bewegung strebte in dieser Situation anders als andere kontemporäre
Reformbewegungen eine komparatistische Methode an, die den vollständigen
Einklang des Islam mit der Wissenschaft und damit seine universelle
Überlegenheit belegen sollte. Dieser komparatistische Weg erforderte eine
einheitliche Terminologie, die Übersetzungsprozesse mit europäischen
Religionskonzepten nach sich zog. Das Projekt soll diese
Übersetzungsprozesse, die keineswegs als schlichte Übertragung von
Konzepten vom einen in den anderen Kontext missverstanden werden dürfen,
sowie die Wechselseitigkeit der Austauschprozesse über Religion aufzeigen
und analysieren. Ziel des Projektes soll es darüber hinaus sein, die der
Aligarh-Bewegung häufig vorgeworfene These einer reinen „Verwestlichung“,
die auf der Annahme eines essentialisierten Standardislams gründet,
kritisch zu hinterfragen und die Pluralität des Islam herauszustellen.
Team Member:Arian Hopf
Elizaveta Ilves - Text-image relations in Colonial Bengal
Text-image relations in colonial Bengal´ is a research project about how
text and image function together in a particular historical context.
Colonial Bengal is especially interesting as it can be seen as one of the
most intense moments of cultural interaction between Asia and Europe in a
colonial setting. A major impetus behind this interaction was due to the
dramatic expansion of communication methods and growing print technologies.
Introduction and rapid growth of modern print forms created a special
platform for communication between 'pre-existent' and indigenous traditions
and foreign influence; which in its turn gave rise to the new styles of
combining text and image. What happens within the text-image units (e.g. if
a new language of expression is formed or it is a representation of one
medium through the other)? What were these units intended to do and how do
we look at them now? What are the effects that evolved out of intercultural
synergy for this text-image idiom? These are the major questions that I am
posing in my research while analyzing (a) satirical cartoons, (b)
children's literature, and (c) collections of poems and paintings of
Team Member:Elizaveta Ilves
Swarali Paranjape - Colonial Satire: The Case of Marathi Literature in the Late 19th and Early 20th Century
Marathi is one of the prominent modern Indian languages. It is the official language of Maharashtra state of India. Traces of satire in Marathi literature can be found in the literary works of Marathi writers as early as in 13th and 14th century.
This project focuses on the production of satire in Marathi literature during the high tide of British colonialism in India, i.e. the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century. Satire for the Marathi intellectuals – a product of colonial encounter themselves – was a powerful literary mode to critique the British colonial regime and also of self-criticism. Marathi colonial satire deals with not only the British Raj and its politics, but it also ridicules and attacks the anglicized Marathi people. Social mimicry, shifting gender identities, ridiculing the traditional ways, attitudes and role models are the themes of these satirical writings. The literature also engages with the problematic of Marathi cultural identity and everyday lives under the overarching presence of colonialism. In spite of leaving a notable mark in the Marathi literary oeuvre, satire as a topic has so far found little favour with literary historians. This challenges one to give Marathi satirical literature some critical attention. This ongoing research demarcates the development of the literary mode of satire in modern Marathi literature and sheds light on the various socio-political themes in the satirical texts.
Oyndrila Sarkar - The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India and the Mapping of Spaces in Assam 1830-1890
Oyndrila's doctoral project explores the antecedents of the construction of
the Indian state through a study of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of
India (GTSI) and its survey operations. It studies the work and the working
relationships the GTSI entailed, and inanimate objects viz. the tools and
instruments of surveying seen as relevant social actors in these survey
networks, and looks at the men, materials and the non-methodical methods of
state formation on the borderlands of what became the Indian state.
Team Member:Oyndrila Sarkar
Johanna Hahn - Die Großstadt in der modernen Hindi-Literatur (1970 bis 2010)
Team Member:Johanna Hahn
Dhrupadi Chattopadhyay - Of Myths and Modernities: Literature by the Christian Converts of Nineteenth-Century Bengal
Conversion to Christianity has never easily lent itself to visions of the Indian nation.
Christianity in Bengal has been habitually read as an external stimulus which fostered the Bengal Renaissance,
but ironically had negligible contributions in the internal struggles of the colonial public.
Reading into the silences of this assessment has been used as an incentive in this dissertation.
To this end, the literary production of the Hindu upper caste converts to Christianity has served as a case in point.
The complicated socio-political location of theChristian converts—ostracized socially by the Hindu majority
but privileged in terms of education and class/caste—in an age of political turmoil and vigorous social reform
allows a unique entry point into the literary culture of colonial Bengal. Examining the English and the Bengali writings of the convert authors,
this work makes a strong case for re-introducing the religious as a crucial axis of enquiry for studying entangled literary cultures.
Team Member:Dhrupadi Chattopadhyay
Sukla Chatterjee - Gazing across the Divide in the Days of the Raj: The Imperial and the Colonized Women's Viewing of the 'Other’
Team Member:Sukla Chatterjee
Jürgen Schaflechner - Hinglaj Devi: Identity, Change, and Solidification at a Hindu Temple in Pakistan
Team Member:Jürgen Schaflechner
Max Stille - Poetics of Popular Preaching: Waz Mahfils in Contemporary Bangladesh
In recent years, scholarship on Islamic preaching has emphasised the
importance of the sensual process of mediation and the multitude of forms
of preaching far beyond the Friday sermon. In contemporary Bangladesh, much
of Islamic preaching takes place in “preaching gatherings” (Bg. oẏāj māhˡphils, *Ar. waʿz maḥfils) held in tents erected
on harvested fields and public space in towns, continuing late into the
night. The audience varies in size but always follows the discourse of the
preacher along protocols known from poetic and religious assemblies,
closely interacting responding to the sermons vocally and emotionally.
How to analyse such congregations and their sermons and what do we learn from them? In my monograph, I trace processes that simultaneously involve, one, Islamic scholarship and hopes for religious salvation, two, imaginative processes triggered by the preachers’ narrations, three, bodily responses to the preacher’s vocal performance and patterns of call and response, and, four, the practice and learning of community consensus. All these levels come together in a process of reception.
I argue, on an abstract level, that expanding insights from literary studies to oral material can help us to understand the experience of contemporary Islam and public culture in Bangladesh and beyond. The advantage of literary and rhetorical studies is their focus on form and their ability trace multilayered processes of reception in necessary detail and depth. At the same time, I make a methodological intervention to widen the scope of these approaches by bringing them in contact with ethnographic research and the rhetoric of music and sound. This allows to grasp the interrelation of bodily sensations and imagination in public literary and religious practice. It opens up a unique window on the subject formation in what might be termed an Islamic fly-over-state.
Team Member:Max Stille
Gauging Cultural Asymmetries: Asian Satire and the Search for Identity in the Era of Colonialism and Imperialism
Subproject B1 Satire - Cluster "Asia an Europe in a Global Context"
This project examines the production of satire in South, East and West Asian traditions during the high tide of European colonialism and imperialism, i.e. the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. We look at satire as a communicative tool of gauging cultural asymmetries. It is, we assert, the satirical mode of expression that is most apt to portray, measure and adjust the various upside-downs that occurred to traditional cultures in Asia in the course of their asymmetrical cultural contact with Europe. As an essentially moralist endeavour, satire is impossible without a (however hidden) statement about how things should be. In investigating Asian satire, we hope to be able to unearth and highlight textual and visual sources that tend to be ignored or at least downscaled in their respective canons, and to find gravitational points of identity around which topsy-turvy realities are made to revolve.
DurationJul 2008 - Nov 2011
FinancingCluster of Excellence: "Asia and Europe"
Satire; Bengali; Hindi; Marathi; Colonial Era
Further InformationProject Website
Engaging with Transcultural Public Spheres: The Case of Tamil-Speaking Muslims in Colonial Singapore
Subproject B13 Tamil-Speaking Muslims - Cluster "Asia an Europe in a Global Context"
Home to diverse people from Southeast, East, and South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and a node of the circulation of goods, people, ideas and information between 'East' and 'West', the city of Singapore played an important role in the cultural flows which connected Asia and Europe. Between 1819 and 1942, Singapore grew from a small port to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the British Empire. The presence of such a diverse population soon forced various communities to talk not only amongst themselves, but with each other as well as with the colonial state. The result was the rise of a number of interrelated public spheres, whose relationship with each other was characterized by strong asymmetries. This project endeavours to trace the engagement of one particularly mobile (spatially and socially) segment of the Singaporean population, Tamil-speaking Muslims from South India, in Singapore's diverse public spheres, and to gauge the role played by them in the local translation of international transcultural flows.
DurationAug 2009 - Jul 2012
FinancingCluster of Excellence: "Asia and Europe"
Tamil-Speaking Muslims; Singapur; Colonial Era
Further InformationProject Website
Court Rituals in the Princely State of Jaipur and their Current Revival
Subproject B5 - Collaborative Research Center 619 „Ritual Dynamics“
Subproject B5 researches the court ritual in the princely state of Jaipur (Rajasthan/India), from the 18th century until the dissolution of the state and its accession unto the Dominion of India in 1949, as well as the current performance of the mutated ritual. Its focal point is the function of the ritual as well as the reasons for its change, the characteristics of the change processes and its actors. Our work is based on the assumption that the court ritual is a structure-providing part of the ruling system, conveying the legitimateness of ruling and assuring loyalty towards the sovereign.
We will extend our investigation of the legitimation of sovereignty in the princely state of Jaipur to include the aspect of external legitimation by researching the design of ceremonies involving foreigners, such as European envoys, Jesuit priests and the British residents in 18th and early 19th century. Furthermore, we will take a look at the yearly celebrations in Jaipur which affirm the royal power (dasahara, vijayadasami) to then analyze the possible transfer of royal rituals from Vijayanagara to Rajasthan. To reflect the immediate present, we will select celebrations activating the court ceremonial and religious rituals and investigate their ritual dynamics. We will also document the voices of the actors who are involved in these dynamics with different interests and views. In this context, we will explore the intended function of the ritual after the dissolution of its initial objective, i.e. the princely state.
DurationJul 2009 – Jun 2013
FinancingSFB „Ritualdynamik“, Teilprojekt B5
Höfische Rituale; Legitimation; Königtum; Krönung
Further InformationProject Website
Praktisches Lehrbuch des Hindi
Hindi bolo. Hindi für Deutschsprachige. Teil 1.
This language manual for German-speaking learners published in autumn 2010.
DurationUntil Oktober 2010
A source book on Hindi literary theory in the 20th century
This project aims to translate important essays on the theory of Hindi narrative prose by various authors and critics, and to publish them as an annotated anthology.
DurationSummer 2010 - Summer 2011
Hindi, Prose, 20th century
Cooperation with the Urban History Documentation Archive of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC)
Further InformationProject Website
Borders, Rituals and Reflexivity
Subproject: A8, Collaborative Research Center 619 „Ritual Dynamics“
In view of globalization, many scientists postulated the rise of a “borderless world of flows”, where
the notion of identity has outgrown the outdated concepts of national-state models.
However, this seems to be a Eurocentric point of view. In Asia, Africa, and other countries, the meaning of borders und the number of associated rituals have grown. This is especially true for South Asia. However, at the same time, borders rooting in the times before the independence as well as the “princely states” have been abolished, leading the associated rituals to fade or disappear entirely. Our core question is: “How does establishing or abolishing borders and their associated rituals affect the reflective process of identity construction among the borderers?” To explore this question, we will compare three ritual systems: (1) the pilgrimages in relation to Hinglaj Devi, whose temple is located in Balochistan/Pakistan, (2) the temple of Sitakunda in Bangladesh, and (3) a ritual system in the central Himalaya that currently experiences the abolishing of hitherto existing ritual borders.
The first of our three case studies centers on the temple of the Hindu goddess Hinglaj, situated in what is today Balochistan. The separation in 1947 made it almost impossible for Hindu believers to pilgrimage to the temple. This was particularly hard for those groups for whom the pilgrimage is a “holy duty”. We will investigate how these groups reacted to the closing of the border. Our second case study explores Sitakunda, a temple complex in Chittagong consecrated to Hindu god Shiva. This temple complex is regarded as one of the most important contemporary Hindu shrines in the predominantly Muslim country of Bangladesh. The third case study concentrates on a region of the central Himalaya that is divided into a number of small territories, each ruled by a god by means of an oracle. The borders of these “divine kingdoms” were determined through rituals (such as processions and oblations) and forcibly defended. In the years following the independence, these borders became less and less important. Today, former archenemies meet to perform “heritage rituals” together, to arrange strategic marriages or to develop political strategies for elections. This has changed the content and meaning of processions, sacrifices and other rituals dramatically.
FinancingCollaborative Research Center 619 „Ritual Dynamics“, Subproject A8
Further InformationProject Website
Creation of a Hindi Database containing internet newspapers and literature from all epochs