South Asia Conference, SMU

On September 22, Asian Studies in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences ( and the North Texas nonprofit SARII ( 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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Revisiting the 14th to 20th centuries in South Asia

An update from Carl, graduate student in religious studies:

Audience during conference presentation

This Saturday marked the seventh time that SMU’s Asian Studies Program has partnered with the South Asia Research and Information Institute (SARII) to bring world-renowned scholars to our campus. From Drs. Barbara and Thomas Metcalf (Universities of Michigan and California, Berkeley) to Dr. Richard Eaton (University of Arizona) to SMU’s own Dr. Azfar Moin, the presenters were all top-notch experts in their field — something made abundantly clear by their choice of presentations.

With topics as diverse as studies of advances in cannon technology in the 14th-15th centuries, Brahmans serving in Mughal courts in the 17th, and Muslim queens ruling in defiance of both local tradition and colonial preference in the 19th-20th, there was something for just about everyone. Whether it was a question of culture, history, religion, language, or even music, there was an answer to be found. To a person, the presenters skillfully walked the fine line between the academic rigor that one might expect to find at a major national conference, and the accessibility one would find in any SMU classroom.

Paul Pandian, chair and vice president of SARII, opening the conference

The enthusiasm from the audience (a group of approximately 100 that represented a diverse mix of faculty and students from both SMU and nearby universities, combined with a very large turnout from the South Asian community in Dallas) was evident at each turn, with Q&A sessions that often proved to be as stimulating as the presentations themselves.

Cap it all off with an excellent Indian lunch and a rousing open panel discussion at the end, and the conference on “Cities, Courts, and Saints: Muslim Cultures of South Asia” was worth every minute spent. That it didn’t cost this struggling graduate student a penny put it well over the top.

Panel discussion (from left): Katherine Schofield (King’s College, London), Rajeev Kinra (Northwestern University), Barbara Metcalf (University of MI, emerita), Azfar Moin (SMU), Thomas Metcalf (University of CA, Berkeley, emeritus), Richard Eaton (University of Arizona), and Steven Lindquist (SMU, Director of Asian Studies)

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