University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

May 9, 2013: Secular Heritage, Sacred Reclamations: Archaeology, Buddhist Revival, and the Circulation of Relics in South and Southeast Asia

This lecture engages with the complex interplay between secularization of archaeological heritage and politics of religious reform and revival across India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Focusing on one particular corpus of material objects, Buddhist corporeal relics, circulating between Europe, South and mainland Southeast Asia, in response to demands of scholarly introspection, and religious as well as nationalist repatriations, Professor Mukherjee will argue for a co-constitution of secular and sectarian identities around heritage in the public spheres of the colonies and post-colonial nation-states.

Available for download as audio (.mp3, 41.5MB) or video (.m4v, 221.5MB).

Question and Answer Session

Available for download as audio (.mp3, 34.7MB) or video (.m4v, 172.4MB).

13-05-09-MukherjeeDr. Sraman Mukherjee is a professor of History at Presidency University in Calcutta, India.  In 2012-13 he has been awarded a  Postdoctoral Fellowship for Transregional Research: Inter-Asian Contexts and Connections, which he is pursuing while based at the University of Minnesota in the Institute of Advanced Study and the Department of Art History. His research interests include modern South Asian material culture, with special focus on colonial power and politics of knowledge production, nationalism and politics of heritage and cultural patrimony, decolonization and postcolonial public spheres, and disciplinary and institutional histories of archaeology and museums. Dr. Mukherjee spent 2011-2012 as an affiliated postdoctoral fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) at Leiden University in the Netherlands and previously taught at Calcutta University, and at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, where he has held a postdoctoral fellowship.

Professor Mukherjee’s larger research project seeks to interrogate the centrality of practices and discourses around heritage and cultural patrimony in the making of European colonial empires in South and mainland Southeast Asia, in congealing of nationalist consciousness, and in political and cultural decolonization and postcolonial state-building. The project draws on his previous doctoral and postdoctoral researches on the interfaces between heritage-politics, political and cultural colonization and decolonization of South Asia, and specifically on his ongoing research on the competing social agencies of specialist scholars and political interest groups in the production and management of built structural heritage across sites of religious practice in postcolonial South Asia.

These regions came into close contact through the networks of communications and political, economic and cultural exchanges established by the British and French Empires and emerged as major sites of negotiations between colonial and nationalist power relations. Scholarship on material culture, colonialism, nationalism and decolonization in South and Southeast Asia has been usually marked by strong nation-state specific focus. Arguing for the centrality of debates around modernity, tradition, historicity and authenticity in cultural colonization, and in the configurations of indigenous public spheres in the colonies and postcolonial nation states, my research, in contrast aspires to demonstrate the strong transnational lives of heritage discourses, nationalist politics and religious revival movements. Reading heritage discourses around material objects as registers for exploring the modalities of colonial power, articulations of nationalist identities and constitution of postcolonial public spheres, the study will provide an alternative conceptual framework to that of empire and nation, which has dominated the critical intellectual history of heritage in South and mainland Southeast Asia. The study thus seeks to interrogate the concepts of heritage and patrimony as trans-regional categories along the registers of convergences, comparisons and circulation. Rather than locating the self-proclaimed secular heritage-building thrust of archaeology and the politics of religious reform along a register of binary oppositions, the study will argue for a co-constitution of secular and sectarian identities around heritage in the public spheres of the colonies and postcolonial nation states.

Cosponsored by the Department of Art History.


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