The response to our call for papers was marvellously enthusiastic. With nearly fifty abstracts, balancing quantity with quality was a difficult task. We had at least 20-25 good abstracts and if time permitted, we would have been delighted to include more than the current 15 papers that we selected. Our aim was to ensure a good range of religions, regions and languages to enable discussion across various translation and religious traditions.

Apart from these, our two keynote speakers, Alan Williams and Arvind Pal Mandair, have sent us stimulating abstracts that focus on the conceptual and methodological challenges that accompany the study of religions in translation.

Alan speaks on Thursday afternoon, September 1, on the much translated poetry of the thirteenth-century mystic Rumi, which historically “helped to spread the religious teaching of Sufi Islam across the Persianate world, to South and South-East Asia as far as China and Indonesia.” He will focus on the current popularity for Rumi’s poetry in the West through various translations offered in English which are “now a multi-million-dollar industry that has commodified Rumi as a brand of ‘universal love poetry’” but which has also “excised [it] from its Islamic context and aimed at the self-improvement market in the West.” Alan addresses a significant tension familiar to many in translation studies: how do we study the relation between academic, scholarly translations and those of “‘free-lance’ translators in the market economy of translation”? And, what bearing does this have in particular on the translation of sacred texts?

On Friday morning, September 2, Arvind examines a new method for engaging the two distinct fields of translation studies and the study of religions by examining the conceptual connection between the categories ‘religion’ and ‘translation’. In conjunction with this strand of enquiry, he will investigate “the nature of the contact zone” between disparate cultures, peoples and texts as a “regime of representation”, which influenced the encounter between Indian and Western contexts. I look forward to hearing him speak on how South Asians were converted to modernity through the translation of their religious traditions into recognizable ‘religions’, an aspect that the project team have been discussing in relation to some of the Tamil and Marathi autobiographical narratives that hint at this link. Also what will be very relevant to our own exploration is his analysis of how we may study conceptual encounters “before relations between languages/words/concepts become solidified…in line with dogmatic regimes of meaning and representation”?

The panel discussion promises to be another exciting space for interdisciplinary discussions bringing together our keynote speakers, primarily offering a religious studies perspective and, one of the project’s academic advisors Theo Hermans, who brings a translation studies angle to the table. Fortunately for us, all three are keenly interested in the existing intersections between the two disciplines and how we may develop these further.

All in all, I look forward to a three-day feast of stimulating papers and discussions. Download the conference programme here.