Conceived by a team of students at the University of Münster, The First International Conference on Critical South Asian Death Studies situates itself in the conspicuous gaps engendered by dominant traditions in the study of Death. Death Studies as a discipline is widely conceived from within individualist, white Western hegemonies and through their appendant epistemologies that foreclose engagements with, among others, South Asian relationalities, belief systems, and established structures of mourning (see Radomska et al., 2020; Thacker and Duran, 2020). Followingly, the conference pays heed to critical approaches to death, dying, grieving and end-of-life care in South Asia; mobilizing critical, intersectional, and radical contextualisms that emphasize distinct bio-medical, metaphorical, cultural, and social forms of death.
As such, this conference locates itself within traditions of Critical South Asian Death Studies (CSADS), which operationalises such a lens to mark a departure from conventional death research and practice by centring the deep complexities of South Asia. CSADS attends to, in norm-critical manners, the necropolitical agendas that underlie the concerns of positionality in South Asia. It calls attention to the varied socio-cultural, economic, political, historical, ethical, ontological and epistemological aspects that underpin South Asianness, with a distinct resonance to experiences of ‘marginalisation.’ Not only so, but it also centres empowering narratives of postcolonial reclamations, subversive necropolitics, non-textual spaces, and oral histories. However, in centring ‘South Asia’, we, the conference committee, are aware of the conceptual problems that characterise the term. In cognizance of the constantly shifting geographies of the region, it would be fallacious to read cultures to be coterminous with territories. Thus, we refrain from prescriptive delineation in broaching South Asia, instead acknowledging the creative, critical and complex ways bodies can inhabit South Asia, and South Asia can come to label spaces and processes.
Rooted in these contours, The First International Conference on Critical South Asian Death Studies, to be held on the 18th-20th of April 2024, calls for interdisciplinary presentations and performances by scholars in all stages of their careers, artists, practitioners, professionals, and activists whose research, poetry, prose, short films, or original performances reflexively engage with regimes of power as manifested in death, dying, mourning and end-of-life care. A non-exhaustive list of potential themes can be found in the extended Call for Papers here. In acknowledgement of differential capacities for movement and to ensure accessibility, the conference shall be held in a hybrid format and shall be free to all its participants.
If we have piqued your interest, then please send your abstracts/proposals (approximately 300 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org by the 15th of October, 2023 (11:59 PM CEST). You will be notified of the reviewing panel’s decision within 4-6 weeks of the deadline.
Information on future developments is yet to come! The biographies of the conference team, as well as the keynote speakers, can be found below.
Felipe Espinoza Garrido is Assistant Professor for English, Postcolonial and Media Studies at the University of Münster, where he received a PhD in literary and film studies. He holds an M.A. in political science and has previously taught media and cultural studies at the University of Dortmund. Specializing in popular culture and postcolonial studies, he publishes on Black British writing and museum culture, Afrofuturism, Victorian and neo-Victorian literatures, as well as transnational film and television. Felipe is currently working on a monograph on post-Thatcherism in British cinema, and one on empire imaginations in popular Victorian women’s writing. He is co-director of the MA National and Transnational Studies.
Yash Gupta is a graduate student at the University of Münster, currently enrolled in the Master’s programme in National and Transnational Studies. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Literary and Cultural Studies with a minor in Graphic Design, and a diploma in Fine Arts. His research interests include Death Studies, Critical South Asian Studies, Digital Humanities and Disability Studies, along with Gender & (A)sexuality Studies, practice-based Animal & Environmental Studies, and Oral History; reflected in his chapter contributions in Literary Representations of Pandemics, Epidemics and Pestilence (2022), Media Technology and Cultures of Memory (2023) and Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives (Anniversary Edition) (Forthcoming, 2024). Besides the library, he can often be found petting animals on street corners.
Rushi Jetly is a postgraduate student in National and Transnational Studies at University of Münster. His previous academic training is in English Literature both at Master’s and Bachelor’s levels. Though new to Death Studies, he would like to see the application of its theories to his current research interests in political and queer aspects of friendship, children’s literature, queer studies and gender studies with a focus on masculinities. Besides academics, he spends his evenings reading Xianxia novels, singing Hindustani Classical Music, and having conversations about current fashion trends.
Melanie Münninghoff is a graduate student in National and Transnational Studies at University of Münster. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Arts and Cultural Studies from the Radboud University in Nijmegen. As a part of the project, she is interested in how Death, Dying, and End-of-Life Care intersect with her research interest in border studies, cultural trauma, cultural diplomacy, and gender studies. With regard to the latter she has published “Framing the Afterimage of Lou Andreas-Salomé” in the journal Image & Narrative (Cober & Münninghoff 2023).
Sneha Pan is a postgraduate student at the National and Transnational Studies programme at the University of Münster. She holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in English Literature. She also holds a MPhil in English, with her dissertation titled “Aporias of Forgiveness: Problematizing the themes of Revenge, Expiation and Justice in Select Holocaust Literature”. She has 6 years of experience as a lecturer at colleges affiliated to University of Calcutta. As a part of the conference team, she takes an interest in the application of theories on Critical Death Studies to South Asian literature and cinema studies. She can often be found watching films, TV series and dog videos.
Professor Mark Stein is the Chair of English, Postcolonial and Media Studies at the University of Münster, a position he took up in 2006. He also runs the National and Transnational Studies programme (MA NTS). As a German critic, writer, and academic, he has specialised in Black British and British Asian Writing, Caribbean Literature, Zimbabwean Literature, Critical Theory, Diaspora Studies, and Postcolonial Studies. Book length work is listed below.
Since publishing Black British Literature: Novels of Transformation in 2004, he has focussed primarily on postcolonial and diaspora studies, with a particular interest in porosity, translocation, and processes of cultural transformation in anglophone cultural production. Aiming to historicise and contextualise this first field of inquiry, while also stretching its boundaries, he returns to this area with his latest publication, The Cambridge History of Black and Asian British Writing (CUP 2020, co-ed. with Susheila Nasta: bit.do/CaHiBABW).
Babette Hintz, born in 1968 in Münster, Germany, is a full-time freelancer with formal training in classical oil painting.
One of the most important goals of her work is to mirror one’s own soul and to transport one’s own emotions through the canvas to the viewer.
All experiences and insights into life flow consciously and unconsciously, including deep gratitude and humility towards creation and mere existence. All becoming and passing away ..."
Her work can be glimpsed in the background of the student representatives of the Conference Committee. More information on Hintz’s work at: https://www.hintz-und-kunzt.de/
Dr. P. Sainath
Magsaysay Prize -winner P. Sainath is an Indian journalist who focuses on social and economic inequality, deprivation and poverty, particularly in rural India. Sainath was McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton University in Fall 2012 and has been conferred doctorates by the University of Alberta at Edmonton and the St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. In India, he has taught journalism for 36 years.
A journalist since 1980, Sainath became a full-time rural reporter in 1993 and has since then spent, on average, around 270 days a year in India’s poorest regions writing from there for India’s largest newspapers, including The Times of India and for The Hindu. His path-breaking reporting placed India’s ongoing agrarian crisis and farmers’ suicides – well over 400,000 in two decades since 1995 – on the national agenda.
In 2014, Sainath launched the People’s Archive of Rural India (http://www.ruralindiaonline.org) (PARI), a unique online project on rural India, with its 833 million people, speaking 780 living languages and a bewildering array of stories, occupations, arts, music, culture, and a lot more. PARI, which publishes in 15 languages, is a totally independent multimedia digital platform creating a unique database, the only one of its kind that can lay claim to journalism representative of every region and section of rural people in this incredibly diverse nation. It is entirely free of both governmental and corporate control. PARI has won 60 awards in just over eight years. Access to PARI is entirely free. There is no subscription fee as its readers can’t afford it. PARI carries no advertising, and does not accept government or corporate grants. The site runs on donations from the public, on volunteer labour, and on support from friends and our work elsewhere.
Bezwada Wilson is a distinguished Indian social activist and leader, celebrated for his groundbreaking work in the realm of sanitation and the eradication of manual scavenging. Born on February 17, 1966, Wilson's journey has been marked by a steadfast dedication to addressing societal injustices.
Wilson's path commenced with a bachelor's degree in Sociology from Loyola College, Chennai, igniting his passion for tackling systemic inequalities. This passion led him to co-found the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) in 1994, an organization committed to abolishing manual scavenging and advocating for the rights and dignity of sanitation workers. Through grassroots activism, awareness campaigns, and legal advocacy, Wilson and SKA have played a pivotal role in pressuring the Indian government to take action against manual scavenging and to provide improved working conditions for sanitation workers.
Wilson's tireless efforts have earned him national and international recognition, including the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2016 – often hailed as Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize – for his transformative work in combatting the deeply entrenched practice.
Wilson's journey exemplifies his unwavering commitment to effecting meaningful change through education, activism, and policy advocacy. His story serves as an inspiring testament to the potency of an individual's dedication to confronting societal injustices directly and driving transformative social change.
Ravi Nandan Singh
Dr. Ravi Nandan Singh is an Indian sociologist. He specializes in the anthropology of death and the dead with interests in literature and theology. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the Centre for Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, where his research focused on the social representations of death in Banaras.
Dr. Singh’s academic career spans close to two decades. He is currently an Associate Professor of Sociology at Shiv Nadar University (SNIoE). Prior to this, he taught at Hindu College, University of Delhi, and the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.
Dr. Singh's specializations include studying cremation as a cross-cultural phenomena, and anthropology of theology, particularly Shaivism, Catholicism, and Islam. He has a keen interest in Hindi and Urdu literature serving as companions to anthropological thought and concepts. His monograph titled Dead in Banaras: Ethnography of Funeral Travelling (2022) is published by the Oxford University Press, London.
Dr. Singh's articles have been well-received across global audiences. Modes of Processing the Dead: Ethnography of Crematoria in Society and Culture in South Asia, is one of the first ethnographies of crematoriums in Europe. "Many Lives of the Dead: Towards an Anthropology of the Indefinite Social" in Contributions to Indian Sociology revived the rich legacy of the sociology of death in India. "Sociology of Religion Today: Practises of Thought and Learning", an interview in the Journal of Human Values about teaching sociology of religion, is widely read and is archived at PhilPapers. His latest essay “COVID-19: Mourning, Knowledge, and Improvisation” in Society and Culture in South Asia, is seen as an important contribution to the sociology of names of the virus.
Dr. Joeeta Pal
Joeeta Pal is a researcher of death practices having completed her PhD on The Body in Death in Early Buddhism at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has been teaching at the Miranda House College for Women, University of Delhi and other institutions. Her thesis attempted to identify structured and non-structured responses to death from Buddhist sources created between the fourth century BCE and the fourth century CE. The study discerned practices and ideas relating to mourning, memorialisation and the different spaces allocated to the two, by using epigraphical, historical, archaeological and art-historical sources.
Her MPhil dissertation argued for multivalent death practices at sites of the Indus Valley Civilization through an analysis of skeletal remains in burials at Kalibangan and Lothal. The study focussed on identifying identities in death and questioning what violence and care could mean at each site.
She was awarded the Sudhi Ranjan Das Memorial Prize for the best paper in archaeology at the Indian History Congress in 2019. She has also created modules for the Indira Gandhi National Open University as well as a book chapter in a regional language for undergraduate students not
pursuing their education in English. Her outreach activities include a specially curated walk around the Harappa Gallery of the National Museum, New Delhi. Pal’s other research interests include prehistoric burials and the necropolitics of more recent times. Her current research focuses on the archaeology of death in the time of COVID-19. She is also co-writing Death and Funeral Practices in North-Central India due to be published by Routledge.