South Asia Conference, SMU

On September 22, Asian Studies in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences (smu.edu/asianstudies) and the North Texas nonprofit SARII (www.sarii.org) presented the 7th Annual South Asia Conference at SMU. The conference – Cities, Courts and Saints: Muslim Cultures of South Asia – brought together six leading specialists of Indo-Muslim history and culture. Since the arrival of Islam in South Asia, Muslim communities thrived in cities, giving them a unique shape with new forms of courtly and spiritual life. The scholars presented new perspectives on the way Muslim traditions contributed to forms of religious life, social etiquette, music and art of the Indian subcontinent. The conference, which is free and open to the community, was co-sponsored this year by the Clements Department of History and the Department of Religious Studies.

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Collecting songs and preserving culture

An update from first-year student Chasitie:

Dr. Katherine Schofield, King’s College, London

This weekend I was able to find time to squeeze in attending a South Asian Conference at SMU. With my knowledge of the Indian subcontinent limited to what I have learned so far in my Introduction to Asian Religions course with Dr. Lindquist, what better way to expand upon my knowledge than attend a South Asian Conference?

The particular talk that I attended was “The Social History of Song Collections: Awadh, Delhi, and Hyderabad,” presented by Dr. Katherine Schofield of King’s College, London. The lecture discussed the practice of song collection during the 18th century under the British. I was eager to hear a lecture on music and its connection with Indian society.

I have to admit that there were quite a few new concepts and technical terms, so while the lecture was challenging for me, it was very exciting. I learned about Sophia Elizabeth Plowden, a British song collector during the 18th century.  Plowden started collecting Northern Indian songs out of personal interest. She attended many music performances and also invited these musicians into her home to play for her.  During their performances, she wrote down the musical notation, including the lyrics, and later learned to play these songs herself. As an admirer of all cultures, I appreciate her concern with preserving the authenticity of these rich songs, but also making them her own.

I walked away from the talk with a strong image of Sophia Elizabeth Plowden, fully garbed in traditional native clothes, as was her habit, and playing the melodic tunes of a vibrant culture which she wanted to preserve, but also live within.

So what is the significance of these song collections? They show the rise of a concern with preserving tradition, even by those outside of it.  While I admit that I didn’t understand everything from the lecture since it was so, so new to me, it was great to see scholarship in action.  And what I understood satisfied my desire to learn today and to learn about this dynamic culture.

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