[INDOLOGY] Call for Papers AAIS first Annual conference

Tyler Williams tylerwwilliams at gmail.com
Thu Jun 20 03:42:11 UTC 2019

Dear colleagues,

With all due respect to the colleague who posted this announcement, I must
express serious misgivings about the nature of the proposed "conference,"
so serious that I am uncomfortable with the Indology listserve being used
to promote this event.

There is no delicate way to put it: the AAIS is a Hindutva ideological
project with specious intellectual foundations that is not only hostile to
the disciplines and work of many of the scholars on this list but that also
aligns itself with a politics that encourages harassment and even violence
against our colleagues in India.

The AAIS, per its website, states the reason for its existence thus: until
now, "Western" disciplines like history, philology, philosophy, etcetera
have been used to understand Indic material and are not sufficient for the
task; therefore a new academic program is necessary that uses "Indic"
knowledge systems to understand Indian material. This well-worn nativist
argument ignores two important things: first, systems of knowledge like
history, philology, philosophy, etcetera were practiced in South Asia
during the precolonial period-- a fact that many scholars of this list
demonstrate in their research-- and second, the fact that many scholars
working in so-called "Western" disciplines (because whether we work in
South Asian or other universities, we all have to work in existing
departments) actually use South Asian knowledge systems in their study of
texts, history, social phenomenon, and the like. The fact that many of us
were trained in South Asian institutions by traditionally-trained
scholars--or by non-Indian scholars well -steeped in things like nyaya,
kavyasastra, itihasa, etc.--should tell one that we do, in fact, take South
Asian knowledge systems seriously.

The AAIS's charter and mission are, in fact, anti-intellectual and built on
highly dubious arguments. Like several similar organizations that have
sprung up over the last several years with the rise of Hindutva politics,
it appropriates the language of postcolonial studies while totally
rejecting both the theoretical and ethical imperatives of postcolonial
studies. Postcolonial studies argues 1) that colonialism (and its
epistemological violence) were carried out by European *together with*
members of elite South Asian communities, 2) due to that epistemic rupture
it is no longer possible to access some kind of "pure" indigenous knowledge
or understanding, and 3) academics have a responsibility to listen to
marginalized and formerly silenced voices of history (and the present).

In contrast, the AAIS poses such vague and theoretically problematic
questions as "Would the academic presentation of the Indic civilization be
different if it had been the work of scholars who did not use Western
theories and categories?" and makes anti-historical assertions such as "The
term “Indic” is a reference, not just to India as a modern contemporary
country, but to the civilization that has been known internationally and
historically by the river Indus. It refers to more than 5000 years of a
continuous civilization whose kernel is a unique knowledge system which is
beneficial to all humankind." The anti-historical, anti-intellectual, and
nationalist implications of this should be clear.

Most worryingly, the AAIS appears to ignore the most fundamental tenets of
postcolonial criticism: to constantly and self-reflexively locate oneself
as a scholar in institutions and dynamics of power. Groups like the AAIS
imply that the only power differential is between "Western" scholars and
"Indian" natives; doing so requires eliding or ignoring the massive and
complicated relationships of power in South Asian societies. In other
words, in making the argument out to be between "we Indians" versus
"non-Indians," the organizers elide the fact that South Asian knowledge
systems, by and large as they come to us, were produced by elites that were
oftentimes involved in marginalizing other groups.

This dynamic came out nowhere more vividly than on this list (and others)
after the last WSC: those of the nativist Hindutva persuasion complained
that allowing women who had suffered marginalization in the
Sanskrit-learning community to speak about that marginalization was
anti-Indian and part of a global conspiracy to malign the Indian nation. In
this case, suppressing dissent *within* the Indian community in order to
suggest that the conflict was between Indians and westerners took on the
quite literal form of *not allowing the marginalized women to speak*.

Finally-- and I realize the seriousness of this claim-- the AAIS and
similar organizations ally with a politics that has encouraged the
marginalization, harassment, and even violence against our colleagues in
India, including colleagues on this list. The AAIS website specifically
singles out "Marxism" as one of the evils of "Western" scholarship; this is
(and has been) used as a dogwhistle to attack any left-leaning (or even
centrist) scholars working in India. A few of the AAIS board members
themselves have repeated and amplified calls for rooting out "urban
Naxals," a term that conflates left-leaning academics with Maoist rebels in
India. We are all only too aware of the real danger this kind of politics
poses for the lives and livelihoods of Indian colleagues.

I apologize for using the space of the listserve for a polemic; I am just
tired of seeing the scholarly forum which Dominik and others have worked so
hard to build used for a purpose that is directly hostile to the work of so
many of us. The AAIS presents itself as a serious, progressive voice; I am
afraid that it is anything but.


Tyler Williams
University of Chicago

On Thu, Jun 20, 2019 at 7:30 AM Lavanya Vemsani via INDOLOGY <
indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

> Hello All,
> Attached below is the CFP for AAIS conference. Please plan to join us for
> the First Annual Conference.
> Please circulate the CFP widely.
> Thank you.
> Lavanya
> Call for Papers for the Inaugural Conference of
> American Academy of Indic Studies
> The American Academy Of Indic Studies (AAIS) is a scholarly,
> non-political, non-religious, and non-profit academy for scholars and
> students interested in Indic civilization. We work with the objective to
> promote study and research of Indic Civilization in Academia. More info at
> www.AAIndicStudies.org <http://www.aaindicstudies.org>
> For its inaugural conference, AAIS invites proposals for scholarly
> presentations on the issues of ‘Indic Civilization and Postcolonialism’. We
> invite proposals from a broad category of academic disciplines to submit
> their research in the processes and endeavors of postcolonialism of Indic
> wisdom and traditions.
> The objective of this conference is to explore the influences of the
> ‘Occident’ and ‘Modernity’ on the Indic intellectual culture and society at
> large. It will be highly valuable to evaluate those influences and
> investigate attempts towards drafting a long term agenda towards
> postcolonialism. An inquiry into the structural, procedural, or attitudinal
> obstacles to better incorporate postcolonialism is the prime intent under
> consideration. The plan is to appraise what you think would be the ideal
> arrangement for systematic investigation, publication, and dialogue over
> the coming decade, in order to involve mainstream academia in the process
> of postcolonialism.
> The deadline for abstract submissions is Oct 15th
> Conference Date: Feb 20-22, 2020
> Conference Venue: Dallas, Texas in affiliation with https://www.naaas.org
> Conference Proceedings: To be announced.
> *Lavanya Vemsani*
> Ph.D (History) Ph.D. (Religious Studies)
> Professor, Dept. of Social Sciences
> Shawnee State University
> President, *Ohio Academy of History *
> Co-founder, *American Academy of Indic Studies *
> Editor-in-Chief
> *American Journal of Indic Studies*
> Managing Editor
> *International Journal of Indic Religions *
> *Associate Editor *
> *-Canadian Journal of History *
> *-Air Force Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs*
> http://www.shawnee.edu/academics/social-sciences/faculty/lvemsani.aspx
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