This volume, Cross-cutting South Asian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach focuses on two themes that are
central to focuses on two themes that are central to Indological studies: religious practices and heterodox
The first part of this volume “The Indian Ocean of Religious Practices: Past and Present” deals with different
issues related to religious practices and institutions in South Asia. These contributions share a similar theoretical
perspective on religion: they all highlight, in various ways and through different disciplinary approaches, how, in
order to fully understand religious practices and their inherent dynamics, it is essential to consider the power
relations that consider the power relations that continually imbue and shape them.
The second part “kings, Priests and Prominent Roles Interpreted through the Visual, Literary, speculative, and
Technical Indian Arts” seeks to substantiate the well-known opposition between the so-called orthodox
sovereignty and the heterodox one, of which the so-called vratya-power seems to be a prime example. Therefore,
the target of the relevant contributions consists in focusing on different contexts where the king chieftain, or
merely the patron of the sacrifice, gains his temporary pre-eminence in an agonistic way which includes an
important non-permanent ascetic dimension.
Serena Bindi studied social anthropology and South Asian studies at the University of Siena and at the Ecole des
Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales of Paris, where she earned a PhD in 2009. She is currently Associate
Professor of social anthropology at Paris Descartes University. http://www.canthe1.fr/serena-bindi.html
Elena Mucciarelli is Research Fellow at the Eberhard Karls Universitat Tubingen (“kudiyattam: Living Sanskrit
Theatre in the Kerala Tradition”), where she is also project leader for a research on royal legitimation in
Medieval Karnataka. After completing her PhD in Indology (Turin-Tubingen 2011) with a research on the change
in the semantics of the Vedic language, she was a Fellow at Cagliari University. http://www.uni-
Tiziana Pontillo is Associate Professor of Sanskrit Language and Literature at Cagliari University. She gained
her PhD with a thesis on Zero-Morphology in Panini’s Grammar (Milan 2000). She was project leader at
Cagliari University for a 3-year RAS/EU Research on Vratyas (2013-15). She has authored ninety contributions,
mainly on technical Sanskrit literatures.http://people.unica.it/tizianapontillo/
This volume is based on the results of different research activities carried out mainly at Cagliari University and
focuses on two themes that are central to Indological studies: religious practices and heterodox sovereignty.
Part I: The Indian Ocean of Religious Practices: Past and Present, edited by serena Bindi and Elena
The original pieces of research presented in the first part of the volume focus on the topic of religious practices
in South Asia. The main aim of this part is to highlight the heuristic potential of a specific methodological
approach to the study of Asia: these papers have been presented and discussed in depth in interdisciplinary
research seminars, where south Asian specialists of different historical periods and disciplines engaged in fruitful
debates which deliberately cross-cut disciplinary and historical boundaries. For this reason, the academic
backgrounds of the authors cover a wide range of disciplines including Indology, religious studies, social
anthropology, social and intellectual history, and linguistics; additionally, the time-spans involved in these
articles stretch from the Vedic period to the contemporary epoch, passing through medieval times.
Before coming to the contents' of the contributions, it is necessary to say a few words on the methodology which
has given birth to these articles and the research network which has allowed such methodology to be put into
practice. Methodological Approach
Methodological approach Cross-cutting South Asian Studies
A first version of the papers contained in this part of the book was presented at the "Cross-cutting Asian Studies:
An Interdisciplinary Approach" conference, organized in Cagliari in June 2012. On this occasion, scholars from
different disciplines participated in extensive discussions with colleagues from other disciplinary fields, but all
of whom shared the same interest in a certain topic.
The conference was a product of the specific methodology that is part of The Coffee Break Project, an
international network of Asian Studies, In 2010, thanks to the initiative of a group of young scholars from a
range of different institutions and disciplinary fields, this network was able to broaden its horizons. The main
pillar of this research group is the firm belief in the benefits of two methodological stances: the exercise of the
interdisciplinary approach and the practice of extensive discussions. This network of scholars has already
organized several conferences which, on every occasion, have succeeded in favoring an open-minded exchange
of ideas, suggestions, and criticisms. In reality, this methodological choice is the reason why the conferences
arranged by this group of scholars were given the name Coffee Break Conferences. The idea lying behind this
uncommon title is, as pointed out by Elisa Freschi, et al. (2011: 39):
The commonsensical statement that the most interesting parts of a conference are the coffee breaks [...] one often
takes part in challenging and fascinating debates while sipping at one’s cup of coffee.
Taking the challenge posed by this statement seriously, the conferences invite participants to put aside the
inflexible formulations that dominate many academic debates and encourage them to share unsolved
methodological or epistemological problems in a clime of fruitful informality.
This procedure entails several benefits. Multidisciplinary in scope, such methodology encourages connections
and dialogues between scholars who are concerned with the studies of antiquity and modernity in Asia. Hence,
for example, the study of a topic, such as religion and power in Asia, might be renovated by bringing together the
methods and findings of social sciences with those of classical Indology. In this part, Debicka-Borek approaches
the study of an initiation cult through a philological method which is integrated with anthropological insights
from Victor Turner. In the same way, Bignami makes use of epigraphic data and tries to analyse them through the
historical interpretation provided by Kulke. Daniela Bevilacqua's article offers another clear example of how
contributions and in sights stemming from different disciplines-Indology, history, as well as social sciences-can
be used complementarily in order to shed light on a specific topic, in this case, the relationship between
devotional religion and caste society in India. Likewise, Serena Bindi complements the fieldwork method and
anthropological literature by drawing upon religious studies and Indological sources in order to tackle the issues
of belief, doubt, and reflexivity in the central Himalayan region.
It is useful to bear in mind that the possibilities of this interdisciplinary dialogue are extremely rich. Indeed, even
when scholars cannot share contents, methodological concerns can be shared and their proposers can benefit
from this process.
Finally, although this interdisciplinary approach is not new, the ways of implementing and putting it into practice
are still a work in progress. The question still remains as to how far, how deep, and within which frameworks
and institutions scholars from different research fields can share their concerns and methods. This part of the
book is the product of one of the arenas where this dialogue was made possible.
Religion and Power in South Asia
All the articles of this section deal with different issues related to religious practices and institutions in South
Asia. In addition to the fact that they all address the field of religion, these contributions also share a similar
theoretical perspective on religion: they all highlight, in various ways and through different disciplinary
approaches, how, in order to fullt understand religious practices and their inherent dynamics, it is essintial to
consider the power relations that continually imbue and shape them. The three articles by Elena Mucciarelli, Ewa
Debicka-Borek, and Cristina Bignami examine the processes of mingling and assimilation between practices and
beliefs that characterized the so-called "Vedic" and "Hindu" religions. These three contributions highlight how
such a development was strongly influenced by hierarchical patterns. Power dynamics are also at the very centre
of the fourth article, by Daniela Bevilacqua, which shows how a religious sect has historically dealt with, and
indeed still continues to apprehend, the issue of caste society. This part ends with a study by Serena Bindi in
which the topics of religion and power are articulated in order to show how powerful discourses are used to
protect the local ritual system from collapsing when confronted with ritual failures and internal scepticisms.
About the Contributions
Elena Mucciarelli's contribution deals with the Vedic period and although it does not consider two different
religious streams, it still tries to question the idea of a single Vedic religion. This approach has been adopted by
many scholars over the last decades, and has already resulted in a wider and more accurate understanding of the
ancient cults among the tribes of northern India in the period that extends from 1500 BCE to CE 500.
Mucciarelli's contribution focuses in particular on the two goddesses, namely Vac and Sarasvati, and attempts to
analyse their features in the chronological strata, i.e. the old and middle Vedic periods. Examining the differences
within historical development, the author aims at giving some pieces of evidence to show that both goddesses
underwent a significant change as to their representation and role, particularly with regard to Rgveda Samhita on
the one hand, and the later Samhitas and Brahmanas on the other. Finally, she focuses on the different perceptions
of the concept of fertility in connection with both Vac and Sarasvati, and the latter aspect also entails the
comparison with a different social stratum from that of the Brahmanical priesthood.
Art & Culture (733)
Emperor & Queen (482)
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