At the South Asia Without Borders Seminar in December
Shankar Ramaswami is halfway through his year as SAI’s South Asian Studies Fellow. In addition to his involvement with SAI seminars and working on a book about his fieldwork in India, he is teaching a class this spring semester titled ‘South Asian Studies 196: Work and Religion in Modern South Asia.’
SAI caught up with Ramaswami to talk about his upcoming class, as well his experience as an SAI Fellow.
He explained that the class seeks to address two fundamental questions: What is the nature of the experiences, struggles, and visions of poor and working people in modern South Asia? What are the appropriate categories, imageries, and vocabularies for understanding these lives and visions? The answer that the class will present is that we need a different vocabulary than the current dominant ideologies of neoliberalism, liberalism, and Marxism.
Although a theme of recent writing is that of India suffering, Ramaswami explained that the picture he will present in his class is more complex: “Yes, there is material deprivation, difficult and dangerous work, mental tension, spiritual emptiness,” he explained. “But there are also other things: humor, collectivity, integrative filaments in neighborhoods, and struggles for justice.”
Ramaswami (center) with workers in Delhi [Photo: Sudharak Olwe]
Drawing on this complexity, his work hopes to “develop a grounded immanent critique of neoliberal capitalism in South Asia.” Although much of the material for the course is focused on India, he said that many of the themes in the course – factories, labor, workers, religion – resonate broadly across South Asia. The lessons from the class can be applied to working people in many cities, for example, the struggle of garment workers in Bangladesh.
He is currently working on a book on his fieldwork about his experience living and studying factory workers in India. Several chapters from his manuscript will serve to anchor the course. Students will also have the chance to participate in Skype conversations with scholars, filmmakers, and activists. Parimal Patil, Professor of Religion and Indian Philosophy and Chair of the Department of South Asian Studies, will be actively involved in the sections of the course on religion and philosophy.
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