Blog Archives

Translation and Religion: the three days

The three days went so quick that it was time to say our goodbyes before we knew it. This indicates of course just how engaged we were discussing the themes of the conference, each others’ research papers and sharing meals. We had a rich combination of presentations addressing translation in a range of religions, languages and regions. It was a great opportunity to compare notes and to see what similarities and differences we could identity in each other’s research area. One thing was clear, we needed more research in this area and, as far as possible, across more languages and religions.

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Annie’s thoughts

The remit I had for this reading differed from my usual writing/dramaturgy process, in that I usually work from original writing, in consultation with the author, and with the ability to re-write material. This time I was working with text that had existed for decades and with no authors to consult with. The brief was to stick to the original text, adapting, but not re-writing, so that the words came directly from the accounts of the authors, in their time.

In order to make the reading live for an audience I had to find the drama in the accounts,

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A Battle for the Soul: The Evening

Doors to the Storytelling Court open at 8pm and people start walking in. A live, human audience—not just the figments of my imagination I’ve addressed during our practice runs! This is exciting.

John gives a brief introduction, the lights dim, the projections and the music come on. Annie and I walk to the front and wait for the images and music to fade. We each speak our part. I introduce each narrative section, making the link to the longer accounts from which these have been extracted as well as the fabric of history and culture within which these conversion stories are embedded.

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Translation and Religion: Interrogating Concepts, Methods and Practices

Conference Programme

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.

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Translation and Religion: Interrogating Concepts, Methods and Practices

University of Edinburgh, 1-3 September 2016

What is the relationship between ‘translation’ and ‘religion’? While all ‘religions’ travel and engage in translation of one kind or another, what gets translated? How do the different components of what is currently understood as ‘religion’—texts, practices, experiences, inner faith or belief systems—translate differently? How can we analyze such commonly held beliefs that some languages simply are sacred and should not be translated? And what are the implications of such questions for understanding religious conversion? What can translation concepts and methods tell us about the way religions and the study of religions are constructed?

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Narratives of Transformation: Language, Conversion, and Indian Traditions of ‘Autobiography’

Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, December 14-15, 2015

The project team organised an intensive workshop examining traditions of life writing in Indian languages in December 2015. The workshop’s theme on the articulation and representation of ‘self-transformation’ across a range of texts and language traditions gave us the opportunity to embed the project’s focus on conversion accounts in a wider comparative context. There was an enthusiastic response to our Call for Papers from scholars in India working on specific autobiographical texts exploring various kinds of transformation, including the perceived self-transformation engendered by religious conversion.

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Narrating Self-transformation: The inexpressible and the inexplicable

What elements of a ‘life’ can be captured in narrative and conversely how do narratives handle the ‘unspeakable’?

In several of the autobiographical narratives we discussed at the Delhi workshop, we noticed the palpable presence of emotion, challenging us to examine the function of the ‘affective’ in narratives of transformation. At various points, narrators are overcome by doubt, fear, anger, remembered pain, shame or even disgust. Accompanying these emotionally charged moments, we noticed references to the inexplicable: ‘sins,’ ‘miracles,’ ‘tears,’ ‘prayers,’ even ‘physical illness.’ These moments of pain, recollected through narrative, connecting reason and the irrational, associating the body,

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Traditions of Remembering and Life-Writing


Though I am weak andhead-987227_1920 tired now,

And my youthful step long gone,

Leaning on this staff,

I climb the mountain peak.

My cloak cast off, my bowl overturned,

I sit here on this rock.

And over my spirit blows

The breath

Of liberty

I’ve won, I’ve won the triple gems.

The Buddha’s way is mine.

[Trans. Uma Chakravarti and Kumkum Roy][1]

This poem from the ‘Therīgāthā’ (a collection of poems written by senior Buddhist nuns from about 600 BCE) is one of the earliest extant personal accounts written by a woman focusing on following a specific religious path.

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European Conference on South Asian Studies, July 2016

The project team proposed a panel for the 24th ECSAS (European Conference on South Asian Studies) which will take place at the University of Warsaw (Poland) from 27 to 30 July 2016. The panel has been accepted and the call for papers is now open. If your research intersects with the panel theme below, please visit the conference website and submit your paper proposal at http://www.nomadit.co.uk/easas/ecsas2016/.

Download conference details (PDF)

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A Treasure Trove…!

A couple of months ago Matthias spoke about the excitement of hunting in the archive. As he said, the sense of anticipation when you don’t know exactly what a box or folder in front of you might contain is sharp but you also hold yourself back, warning yourself against disappointment. But then, once in a while, you hold your breath as you spot that one piece of paper that makes all the hours spent rummaging through piles of yellowing documents worthwhile….


This is what happened unexpectedly just a few weeks ago. After having spent some days familiarizing myself with the way the National Library of Scotland catalogues its nineteenth-century manuscripts and compiling a list of Scottish missionaries who had worked in Tamil-speaking parts of South India,

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