Elsewhen in the City: Islam, Ecology and Other Temporalities in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi.

Tuesday Seminar
Event Speaker: 
Anand Vivek Taneja
Event Time: 
03:30 PM to 05:00 PM
Event Venue: 
Committee Room (MS 610)

What is the connection between the time of the city and religious time? In modern Delhi, a city that moves at a frenetic pace, the ruins of a 14th century palace—now widely recognized as a dargah or Muslim saint shrine— are a space where people shirk work and cease looking at their watches; and where the spirit-saints, often seen in visitors’ dreams and waking visions wearing medieval robes, embody another time. Dreams and visions of saints, as Amira Mittermaier’s (2011) work on dreaming in contemporary Egypt has shown us, are conceptualized as coming from an Elsewhere, not from inside the unconscious but from outside the subject. But the persistent connection between these visions and medieval ruins in Delhi indicates that these visions are also linked to elsewhen, times other than the contemporary moment. Here the past exists as a field of potential—what could have been and what could be again—which destabilizes the inevitability of present states of affairs. Saints present among ruins gained prominent followings, as I explore in this paper, after periods of colonial and post-colonial state violence and the remaking of landscapes. Ruins serve as thresholds of multiple temporality not just in dreams and visions, but also in ritual, and in cinema. In each of these modes, ruins hold open ethical potential, the possibility of transformation of current states of affairs for both individuals and communities, including communities beyond the human. For instance, new ritual forms in this space bind humans and animals closer together at a time of growing ecological crisis. I briefly analyze each of these modes of multiple temporality in this paper, and end with some thoughts on the persistent connection of Islam to the pre-colonial elsewhen in the dreamscapes and landscapes of contemporary north India.

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.