Call for Presentations for an International Interdisciplinary Conference

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Call for Presentations for an International Interdisciplinary Conference

March 3 & 4, 2016

Pilgrimages in India: Celebrating Journeys of Plurality and Sacredness

Venue: Indiana University Gateway, Gurgaon, India

Conference Organizing Committee: Ian McIntosh (IUPUI), Vinod Verma (University of Delhi), Sonika Jain PhD (Independent Scholar), and Varada Sambhus (PhD Scholar, JNU)

In a classic definition of Indian pilgrimage, a physical journey to a sacred place is made for purification and the redemption of sins. There is an opportunity to detach oneself from the worries of daily life and to devote time to prayer, chanting, dancing, contemplation, reading scriptures and listening to the spiritual discourses of the holy ones. This culture of pilgrimage is deeply embedded in Indian society. In the latter of the four age-based stages of the ideally conducted life (ashrams) - namely student, householder, retirement, and asceticism - one is expected to undertake regular pilgrimages (thirths) to overcome the never-ending birth-life-death cycles.

Contemporary India

Pilgrimage involves, on the one hand, Indians undertaking thirths (a form of pilgrimage) and seeking emancipation, liberation or moksha (release from the world) and, on the other hand, non-Indian visitors from across the globe seeking heightened awareness, wisdom and even enlightenment. The very word ‘India’ is synonymous with this spiritual quest, as exemplified in the visits of Chinese monks in the seventh century seeking the Buddhist sutras. Today, in many cases, pilgrimage might involve finding a teacher or guru, visiting one of the great yogic sites of learning such as a BKS Iyenger’s school, or adopting Indian religious, cultural and spiritual practices. For some Indians, religious pilgrimage is focused upon the major and institutionalized sites of Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity, or interfaith sites like Ajmer. For others, pilgrimage is also linked to the idea of tourism, an annual outing and/or religious journey.

Lately, pilgrimages have acquired newer forms and contents. Many pilgrims find home and others reconnect with their roots by coming to learn classical Indian music and dance at the major centers of learning and also to perform. Indophiles and Indians in Diaspora, likewise, visit famous sporting, architectural, artistic and other contemporary sites of significance including Bollywood. They may also undertake pilgrimages to various shrines for healing and blessings, or to conduct rites of passage associated with childbirth, puberty, marriage and death. Indeed, in recent years secular journeys have also found new force among urban Indians. Old forms of socialization and identity-formation relating to caste, religion, gender and region are being reshaped and re-institutionalised due to migration and other factors leading to the emergence of more space for sharing culture and life narratives. Special interest groups, particularly in cities, with their own unique forms of pilgrimage, are proliferating at an unimaginable pace. These are being facilitated by accessible new technologies and various social media applications like WhatsAPP.

Politics and Pilgrimage

Pilgrimages were used politically in the independence struggle, for example when Mahatma Gandhi used the concept to mobilize Indians against colonial rule in the famous ‘salt march’. At the same time Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution, emphasized in his march to fresh water sources how political freedom had no value for the lower castes if they were to be socially discriminated against and treated as ‘untouchables’.

Post-independence India inherited plurality as the cornerstone of its national identity. As a federal structure, India has many Indias within it. Plurality of languages, religious identities, sects, sub-sects and secular traditions of pilgrimages are, in fact, situated in histories quite differently experienced across time and space. While on the one hand, pilgrimage may deal with the philosophy of 'being your own light', on the other, the study of pilgrimage necessarily interrogates religious orthodoxy, intolerance, caste system as social order, gendered identity in binary terms and other modes of discrimination and disparity. In India, some gods and goddesses are worshipped by low caste pilgrims and some gods and goddesses attract high caste pilgrims. The division is sharper when a Dalit desires to have darshan (a view) of a god in a citadel of spirituality. For the low caste cobbler and poet Ravidas, his wooden pot of water was the holy Ganga itself. He would say if your heart is pure, then your pilgrimage is in the wooden bowl itself because it is a site of creation.

These and other topics as suggested below, are welcomed at our conference:

  1. History and Historicity of Pilgrimages
  2. Secular Pilgrimage, Insular Pilgrimage and the Modern State
  3. Gender and Pilgrimage
  4. Pilgrimage, Travel and Communication
  5. Philosophies and Traditions of Dominant and Subversive Pilgrimages in India
  6. Sacred Journeys and Global Marketing
  7. Pious v/s Holy in Sacred Journeys
  8. Social Dimensions of Selfhood and the Sacred Dimensions of Pilgrimage
  9. Pilgrimage and Human Rights
  10. Consumerism, Individuality and Pilgrimage
  11. Unsustainable Pilgrimages & Ecology
  12. Experiencing the Foretold: Pilgrimage as Imagined Site

We also encourage auto-ethnographical and experiential accounts, case studies, works of art, and works-in-progress.

The conference organising committee invite abstracts from academics, independent researchers and writers, communicators or pilgrimage/travel story tellers who use one
medium or several media for text, image, audio and video projection. Abstracts having an interdisciplinary approach are encouraged and we welcome researchers and academics whose voice needs social mobility e.g. Dalits, women and other marginalized sections of the population.

Please submit your abstract of not more than 300 words to Dr. Ian McIntosh’s e-mail: imcintos@iupui.edu by 5pm (Delhi Time, INDIA) December 10, 2015. Decisions on acceptance will be made by end-December 2015.

Abstracts may be in Word, RTF or Notepad formats with the following information and in this sequence:

a) author(s), b) affiliation as you would like it to appear in programme, c) e-mail address, d) title of proposal, e) body of proposal, f) up to 10 keywords. E-mail should be entitled: Indian Pilgrimages Abstract Submission

If your abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft of your contribution might be requested for publication purposes. The details of the word-limit, deadline, formatting requirements, and mode of publication will be communicated to the selected participants.

Participants will be informed about information related to travel, accommodation, and hospitality provided by Indiana University in follow-up communications. There are no registration fees.

In order to ensure a creative and focused conference with ample opportunity for discussion and reflection, delegates are expected to attend for the duration of the event. A certificate of participation will be provided upon request.

The conference will feature a plenary presentation by Prof. David Haberman of Indiana University (Author of ‘Journey Through the Twelve Forests’) and an Exhibition on Sacred Indian Architecture (from the American Institute for Indian Studies) at the Gateway premises.

Sponsored by: Indiana University, the IU Alumni Association, and the IUPUI Department of Religious Studies. Address for correspondence: Ian McIntosh 902 W New York Street, ES2129, Indianapolis IN 46202-5140 USA.