Contemporary Bhakti Encounters

Devotionalism in Ethnographic and Ethical Perspective

Contemporary Bhakti Encounters

Contemporary Bhakti Encounters

150 150 Regional Bhakti Scholars Network

organized by Hannah H. Kim and Richard Davis

Madison South Asia Conference - Oct 11,2018

The 5th annual symposium of the RSBN focuses on ethnographic approaches to the study of bhakti. The aim is to balance the textual and broadly historical emphases of previous RSBN symposia. We encourage proposals from all scholars working with contemporary and living devotional communities, in all regions of South Asia. We anticipate that ethnographic perspectives will suggest approaches and raise questions for those who work on textual and archeological materials pertaining to bhakti. We also expect to address ethical issues arising from fieldwork with living communities.

This symposium encourages presenters to share new or ongoing fieldwork that contributes to our understanding of living bhakti and its multiple expressions in the contemporary world of South Asia. This includes both communities grounded on medieval bhakti traditions and new forms of devotional expression and community arising in colonial and post‐colonial South Asia. How do today’s communities offer strategies for living in the fast‐changing nations of southern Asia? In what ways does participation in a bhakti community offer ways of reframing citizenship and the relationship of individual and society? How do modern phenomena of mobility and national (and international) media affect questions of regionality and vernacularism in contemporary bhakti? In what ways are devotional performative traditions changing in contemporary settings? Are there changes in aesthetic understandings of bhakti arts?

The 2018 symposium theme also acknowledges the challenges that scholars working with contemporary bhakti communities encounter with respect to questions of authority, power, and ethics. We encourage discussion on a range of ethical issues and real‐time concerns that affect research with people whose practices and ideals have repercussions on bhakti research. What ethical concerns arise when the field researcher establishes trust and is given access to data whose publication could bring harm to the informant or community?

7:30 – 8:30

Light Breakfast

8:30 – 8:45

Welcome and Opening Comments

RBSN Co‐chairs: Gil Ben‐Herut and Jon Keune
Symposium Convenors: Hanna H. Kim and Richard Davis

8:45 – 10:15

Session I: Reframing the Bhakti Past Through the Ethnographic Present

Nancy M. Martin
Trance Encounters with Mirabai: Experiencing Presence in a Bhakti Milieu

Irina Glushkova
The Rise of the Domestic: Reclamation of New Bhakti Domains in Gangakhed and Alandi

Dušan Deák
Devotion and the Performance of Belonging: Lineage Strategies Among the Descendants of Sant Śekh Mahaṃmad Śrīgondekar

Gil Ben‐Herut
Ancient Texts. Modern Contexts: Ethnographical Cues for Reading Premodern Bhakti Literature in Kannada

10:15 – 10:30

Tea Break

10:30 – 12:00

Session II: Encountering Devotionalism and its Transnational and Performative Mediations

Sutopa Dasgupta
Indo‐Caribbean Bhakti: Devotional Protests in the Contemporary South Asian Diaspora

Claire C. Robison
A Return to a Place One Has Not Been: ISKCON and the Rhetoric of Bhakti Revivalism in Mumbai

Kalpesh Bhatt
Aural Devotion and Ethical Formation: The Practice of Śravaṇa‐bhakti in BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha

Cynthia Packert
Renovating the Akshar Deri: A Case Study in Contemporary BAPS “Bhakti Visuality”

12:00 – 12:15

Open Discussion

12:15 – 1:45


1:45 – 3:00

Session III: Roundtable Conversation

Fieldwork Ethics in Research on Contemporary Bhakti Communities
Emilia Bachrach (Moderator) with Andrew Kunze, Aalekhya Malladi, Jennifer D. Ortegren, and Shandip Saha

3:00 ‐ 3:30

Session IV: Transmitting Bhakti Through Performance

Aks and Lakshmi
Electronic Bhakti Music: Contemporizing North Indian Devotional Poetry

3:30 – 3: 45

Tea Break

3:45 – 5:15

Session V: Critiquing Critical Bhakti Scholarship and Addressing its Ethical Challenges

Swayam Bagaria
The Inoperativity of Sacrifice, The Commandment of Bhakti

Hanna H. Kim
Ethical Manoeuvres and Ethnographic Consequences in Swaminarayan Research

John S. Hawley
The Theme‐Parking of Vrindavan

5:15 – 5:30

Open Discussion and Closing Comments

Convenor (Richard Davis)

5:30 – 7:30

Madison South Asia All‐conference Reception

Madison Ballroom

6:15 – 7:15

Informal Symposium Dinner

Mirch Masala
449 State Street, Madison, WI 53703 (approx. o.4 miles from conference)

7:30 – 9:00

Conference Performance: Parvathy Baul

Wisconsin Ballroom