XQs X – A Conversation with Anand Vivek Taneja

 

[The XQs (Ten Questions) series is a conversation with the authors of new and exciting works in South Asian Studies, whose aim is not to “review” but to contextualize, historicize and promote new scholarship. We thank Dr. Riddhi Bhandari for conducting this interview. Previously: IIIIIIIVVVIVII, VIII, IX.]

 

Anand Vivek Taneja is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. He studied at Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia, and at Columbia University, where he received his PhD in Anthropology in 2013. His research and teaching interests include urban ecologies, enchantment and ethics, animality, historical and contemporary Islam and inter-faith relations in South Asia, post-colonial urbanism, Urdu literature, and Bombay cinema. He was awarded the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences for Jinnealogy. 

Taneja, Anand Vivek. Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, and Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi. Stanford University Press, 2017.

 

 

1. Can you talk about how Jinnealogycame into being. Why did you pick this name?

Firoz Shah Kotla, the place that is central to the book, is known by those who come here as a dargah, or Muslim saint shrine. Except that the saints here are not human, by most accounts, but spirits known as jinn. Now Delhi is a place known as bais khwaja ki chaukhat, the threshold of twenty two saints, it has long been a center not just of Muslim political power in India, but also a major Sufi center. So one of my major questions going into this project was why the jinn became popular saints in Delhi in the late nineteen seventies, as they did at Firoz Shah Kotla, in a city with so many human saints? What was the relation of this theological newness to transformations in the life of the city? One of the recurring stories that I encountered at Firoz Shah Kotla, which I recount at length in the book, is the ability of the jinns—who in Islamic cosmology are much longer lived than human beings—to serve as links connecting human beings centuries and millennia apart. For example, conveying the greetings of Jesus to Prophet Muhammad, and in story directly linked to Firoz Shah Kotla, authenticating the knowledge of Shah Waliullah of Delhi through an old jinn who was an eyewitness to the life of the Prophet. This ability of the jinn to supersede human genealogies of memory and transmission is what I have called jinnealogy. And jinnealogy, as I found, was a recurring motif in post-Partition Delhi, not just in the stories told at Firoz Shah Kotla, but also in the popular theological literature being produced in the city. This was happening at the same time as there was a huge erasure and suppression taking place of Muslim landscapes of memory and sacrality in Delhi, partly through the enormous violence of Partition, and partly through the subsequent policies of the post-colonial Indian state. As one of my interlocutors told me at Firoz Shah Kotla, 1947 men valiyon ka Dilli se nata tut gaya. 1947—the year of Partition and Independence—severed the relation of the saints to Delhi. But jinnealogy allows for the potential of memory and continuity—and a reclaiming of space—in a city marked by enormous violence, disruption, and official amnesia. The mode of knowledge and its transmission that jinnealogy implies is not just a counter to most “official” modes of knowledge production and remembrance in post-colonial India, but is also counter to many ideas of what “authoritative” religious knowledge and its transmission looks like in the field of Islamic Studies. Jinnealogy, as a concept and as a title, allows me to pithily suggest these differences from our usual understandings, as puns often do, so it kind of had to be the title. Also, I do actually trace a genealogy of jinn-veneration in Delhi from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial in the book, so it is a jinnealogy in that sense too!

Continue reading “XQs X – A Conversation with Anand Vivek Taneja”

Islamic-Jacobinism: The Making of the Muslim Intellectual

By Ahmad Makia

This essay is about the Islamic-Jacobin political condition. It looks at the traditions of Muslim intellectuals and the oppositional discourses that resist Western civilization’s prophetic claim over history, identity, literature, language, and politics. The term Jacobinism is used emphatically, to echo the work of CLR James, the French Revolutionary Wars, European Enlightenment and Islam, as well as cross-continental negotiations of nationhood, and ideologies of self-determination, equality, and liberty. It proposes a ‘cross-dressing’ methodology for intellectual exchange and political practice.

***

 

In Europe a malcontent thinks of carrying on a secret correspondence, of going over to the enemy, of seizing some town, or of exciting foolish complaints among the people. A malcontent in Asia goes straight to the prince, amazes, strikes, overthrows: he obliterates all memory of his existence: in one moment slave and master, usurper and lawful sovereign — Usbek to the Same, Letter 104, Persian Letters

Persian Letters narrates an artificial epistolary exchange of two Persian Muslim travelers, Usbek and Rica, who embark on a cultural journey to France. Their letters recast observations, critiques, and contemplations on French society to friends and mullahs in their native hometown, Isfahan. The book is a literary work that was published anonymously in 1712, and was written by French intellectual and political philosopher Montesquieu.

When released, the work was widely successful, and praised as a satirical and critical portrait of Bourbon nobility and Christian society. Today, Persian Letters endures as an example of the Enlightenment’s contribution to global humanitarian values, and is also considered one of the philosophical works that inspired and paved way for the French Revolution of 1789–99 (somehow foretold in the quote above).

What I find curious about Persian Letters is the plural authorial position that Montesquieu assumed. I contend that the invented Muslim Persian voice provided the French public with an opportunity to escape conceptions of itself as a self-enclosed civilization belonging to a mono-European continental enterprise. By displacing the landlocked national voice, Montesquieu created an unprecedented political provocation around the authorities that buttressed French monarchical society. His impersonation of an ‘outside’ voice, and sympathetic literary representation of male Muslim bodies, suggested at the deficiency of Christian modernity, which led the French public to imagine, confess, and perform, something genuinely new about itself: a self-determined statehood1. Continue reading “Islamic-Jacobinism: The Making of the Muslim Intellectual”

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  1. Subversive disguise was an emerging practice in 18th century modern France, especially carnivalesque transvestism, usually for the purpose of status reversal and blurring of social boundaries, as well as in international relations: Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée Éon de Beaumont posed as a woman for almost twenty fours years to Empress Elizabeth of Russia to gain her confidence. []

Postcards from the Archives: Goodbye 2017

2017 started grim, and stayed so. Here, at CM, we started with a few pieces on the new wave of xenophobia, with guest essays  on the Spencer phenomenon  and on fake news. Sepoy responded to the ‘Muslim ban’ and reminded us that “[t]he law is not an ally,” that “the Executive power that Trump is wielding to destroy families here and abroad, has a long and checkered history that stretches back to the very foundation of this nation.” Meanwhile Sepoy also published an op-ed in NYT (ha) on FATA, and in Dawn on the colonial myths of Muslim Arrival in Sindh. He also posted his talk on Richard Eaton and Phillip Wagoner’s Memory, Power, Architecture: Contested Sites on India’s Deccan Plateau, 1300-1600Your humble servant’s favorite for the year is the post on Eqbal Ahmad.

The XQs series continued with conversations with Sarah Besky, and  Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande, and Julie Billaud. We also published an exclusive prologue to the Chinese language edition of Sarah Besky’s Darjeeling Distinction. There was also this interview with Deepak Singh.

We hosted our second book roundtable, this year on Saba Mahmood’s Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report with an introduction by Durba Mitra and essays by Schirin Amir-MoazamiSarah Eltantawi, and Humeira Iqtidar.

From the Michigan tandoor, here are the reports on the teach-ins on Disappeared activists in Pakistan, on the racist violence against Desis in the U.S., and on the Indigenous Peoples’ Day rally.

CM friends Francesca Recchia and Sarover Zaidi contributed as well: here, here.

Lapata was, well, lapata.

Welp, thus ended 2017 and this, the 8th postcard. Let’s see what 2018 has to offer!

Previously: 2016201520142013201220112010

Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the University of Michigan – I

[To mark the Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, student and community activists organized a march. The march was followed up by a teach-in to connect Michigan’s Indigenous history with said march. Following is a report on the march. Next up will be a report on the teach-in.]

Art by Shebani Rao: https://www.instagram.com/shebanimal/

 

This has been a particularly tense Fall at the  University of Michigan (UM). From racist incidents, graffitis, and flyers, to the agitation against recent visit of Charles-bell-curve-Murray and the organizing and protests afoot right now for the likely visit by Richard Spencer–the campus is abuzz with discontent and activism. UM honors its greats with buildings named after them: James Angell, the architect of the anti-Chinese immigration Angell Treaty of 1880; the president of American Eugenics Society, C.C. Little; the anticommunist Harlan Hatcher, while ignoring that this campus, and the city, has had a long history of activism and resistance and a tradition of creative protest that’s alive and well


 

The Indigenous Peoples’ Day–the University, unlike the City of Ann Arbor, still recognizes it as Columbus Day– went unmarked last year at UM. But, this year, a coalition of students and community activist groups and individuals organized a rally, supported widely by others who helped with the crowd-sourced printing of flyers and the zine (drafted to pass around at the march), flyering, and blocking traffic on the day of the march.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Day: March of Indignation was designed as a historic “marching” tour, to sound-out an Indigenous Peoples’ history of UM, to remember and remind, to re-signify the landscape and familiar landmarks of the campus. UM is built on land gifted by the Odawa, Potawatomi and Ojibway people for the education of Indians. A plaque at a central location on campus commemorates the “Land Gift“. However, Proposal 2 limits affirmative action, in effect prohibiting the provision of equal educational opportunities to students of color. And yet, as the zine (see below) says, “this state law does not supersede the nation-to-nation promise made in the Treaty of Fort Meigs.”

Continue reading “Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the University of Michigan – I”