Report from the 17th European Conference
on Modern South Asian Studies,
at Heidelberg, Germany, 9–14 September, 2002:

Heidelberg – located along the river Neckar in southern Germany; surrounded by green mountains, and with a great castle ruin watching over the town. The charming mediaeval city of Heidelberg offered an inspiring place for the 300 or so participants to the 17th EASAS (European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies) conference in the middle of September, 2002.

An inaugural lecture by Susanne Hoeber Rudolph (University of Chicago) about ‘The Coffee House and the Ashram. Gandhi, Habermas and Civil Society’ in the old convocation Hall of the University of Hedelberg also helped to create a sense of community, which was developed further over a cup of coffee or a Pilsener in one of the many ‘coffee houses’ of Heidelberg. We were – in the nice and sunny September weather – taken for a nice boat ride along the Neckar and its sluices, and we had a cordial conference dinner at the Palais Prinz Karl at the Alte Kornmarkt.

Südasien-Institut celebrates 40 years

The conference took place in the spacious old style lecture halls of the Neue Universität at the Universitätsplatz in the old city. It was hosted by the Heidelberg University’s South Asia Institute (Südasien-Institut), which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary. During the four eventful decades of its existence, the Institute has gone a long way to fulfil its mandate for research and teaching on South Asia.
With its eight full departments of Anthropology, Classical Indology, Development Economics, International Economics, History, Geography, Modern Indology and Political Science, the institute has already become a major centre for interdisciplinary teaching, research and networking.

This broad range of interests is sustained by an immense library holding with over 240 000 volumes, fully equipped with all modern facilities in including a new reading room and access to other national and international holdings of complementary interests. Visit the library through its web page (information only in German).

Panels on a broad variety of topics

Subrata Mitra, director of SAI, Dieter Rothermund, and other professors of the programme committee as well as Tilman Frasch and the staff of SAI, had done a good job in putting together the 36 panels that were held. See the full list of panels on the conference’ web page.

Most of the panels were truly interdisciplinary with a fair participation also of South Asian scholars. However, there were few scholars coming from Pakistan, and the recent dramatic events in Afghanistan were not covered by any panel.
What was ‘in’ were topics such as political and military conflicts covering everything from the Indo-Pak conflict to the peace process in Sri Lanka. While the former conflict didn’t seem to offer any easy way out, the latter process was described as very promising.

There was also great interest in cultural nationalism and the political development in India, the federalist system and the proliferation of political parties in state and national parliaments (the current Indian National Democratic Alliance government consists of 22 national and regional parties!). Thus, with is majority constituency system, the expectation that a two party system would eventually emerge has not come true.

As usual religions of South Asia are engaging quite a few scholars. One panel dealt with Religious reform movements' with 11 papers, among them Yoginder Sikand’s extremely interesting paper on the Deendar Anjuman movement in South India – ”Between Dialogue and Conflict, Deendar Anjuman 1920–2000”. Another popular panel was ‘Gender and Religions in South Asia’ with no less than 14 papers (look out for an anthology from this panel). The same goes for history with two very strong panels: ‘Continuity and Change in South Asia´and ‘Little Kingdoms as a Model of the pre-Modern South Asian State' and a lot of history papers also in other panels.

K Sivaramakrishnan (University of Washington), Staffan Lindberg, Gunnel Cederlöf and Beppe Karlsson

The International Indian Diaspora’ is another topic of considerable interest with many papers. These show that there is an increasing awareness of Indian roots across the globe and increasing communication with ‘Mother India’ among new emigrants (via travelling, e-mails, and financial investments). For example, Mohan K Gautam asked the general assembly if the people of Indian origin in the Caribbean countries could be considered to belong to India!
In panel no 41, on 'South Asian Society: Brittish Colonialism and the Emergence of Subaltern Networks in the Indian Ocean Region' Harald Fischer-Tiné from Berlin drew a large crowd for his paper on a somewhat less known phenomenon from the colonial history, on ”The European Networks of Prostitution and Colonial Anxiety in South Asia”, dealing with the period just before the First World War, with trafficking of girls mostly from the Habsburg Empire to the Indian port cities and onwards to East Asia.

Regional issues were covered in panels on Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Karnataka (with 22 papers the biggest panel!), Tamil Nadu, Mahaharashtra, Rajasthan, Orissa, Bengal, and Punjab. Depending on the convenors, the panels covered a variety of issues, such as cultural, anthropological, linguistic, economic and political. Most spectacular was perhaps Peter Schalk’s attack on the representation of the Veddah people as an original tribe in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. In the same panel Alan Bullion presented a paper on the Norwegian Peace making Process in Sri Lanka, and John Neelsen a paper on the Sinhala–Tamil conflict in the same country, ”Political Conflict and Political Accomodation in a Multiethnic State”.
The panel on Punjab offered two very interesting papers, one by Shinder Thandi on ”Diaspora financing of rural development in Punjab”, and one by Jivtesh Singh Mandi on ”The Paradox of Punjab: A Rich State with Chronic Fiscal Deficits’.

Susanna von der Heide on the killings of the Nepalese royal family in 2001.

Several panels dealt with the Himalayas, such as ‘Representing Local Histories’ (with 14 papers) and ‘Anthropology and Himalayan Politics’, in which Susanna von der Heide presented an interesting paper on ”The Death of the King of Nepal and his Family – Fateful intra- and intercultural as well as National and Internetaional Entanglements”. Anthropology was also prominent in a panel of ‘Tribal life’, with the very concept of ‘tribal’ itself highly contested.

Economic development nowadays attracts much less attention than it used to. Perhaps it is symptomatic that the panel on ‘Problems of Urbanization in South Asia, Past and Present’ had 12 papers, the panel on ‘Education’ had 14 papers, and the panel ‘Nature, Nation and Empire’ had 7 papers, while the panels on ‘Rural Development’ and ‘Industrialisation’ only had a handful each. However, in the latter panel, Dieter Rothermund presented a very interesting overview of the ”Industrial Production and Technological progress in India”, which should deserve a wide readership.

The Nordic participation was particularly strong in the panels on ‘Gender and Religions’ (organised by Eva Hellman and Sidsel Hansson), where Åsa Elisabeth Hole presented a paper on the religious traditions among Gujarati Hindu women in diaspora, and Eva Rosén-Hockersmith presented a paper on North Indian Astrology, based on fieldwork in Kolkata; and equally strong in the panel on 'Nature, Nation and Empire’ (organised by Gunnel Cederlöf and K Sivaramakrishnan).

Staffan Lindberg and Lars Eklund


PS. Please look at some more photos from the 2002 conference at Heidelberg

The next, 18th, European conference on Modern South Asia Studies will be arranged by SASNET and Lund University 6–9 July, 2004.
An invitation for the conference is found at http://www.sasnet.lu.se/EASAS18.html.
We hope to be able to organise just as interesting panels as in Heidelberg.


Back to Research

Search the SASNET Web Index

SASNET - Swedish South Asian Studies Network/Lund University
Address: Scheelevägen 15 D, SE-223 70 Lund, Sweden
Phone: +46 46 222 73 40
Webmaster: Lars Eklund
Last updated 2006-01-27