Carla Bellamy



Kingship, citizenship, and Sufi Shrine Culture in Indian Muslim Princely States

This lecture explores the changing relationship between the small princely state of Jaora and a collection of Islamic shrines located on the outskirts of the present-day town of Jaora (population 75,000) known as Husain Tekri (Husain Hill).  Drawing upon colonial and court documents in English and Urdu as well as contemporary interviews and ethnographic research, the talk will focus on three moments in Husain Tekri’s history: its founding in 1886; the development of its shrines from the 1920’s through the 1940’s, highlighting, in particular, connections between Husain Tekri and Bombay’s Shi‘a Khoja community; and the modern life of the shrines as they relate to Jaora’s current nawab (king). Throughout, the unique nature of the shrines as hybrid Sunni-Shi’a spaces unaffiliated with Sufi lineages has facilitated - and continues to facilitate – novel articulations of sovereignty that differ from more well-documented Sufi patronage structures that granted medieval and early modern Muslim rulers of the subcontinent their sovereignty.


Stories of Conversion, Sufis and Caste: Chippa religious identity in 19th and 20th century Northern India

Through archival materials, genealogical records, and ethnographic observations, this talk will examine ways in which the tension inherent in OBC (“low” caste) Muslim identity has inspired innovative understandings of the nature of Islam and the meaning of being Muslim. For the OBC Muslim Chippa community of the Indian town of Jaora, their status as  “Muslim” (a religious designation) and “backward” (a staple of caste discourse) has been endowed with new meanings associated with socio-economic status and education.  At the same time, the enduring “low” status of various groups (as delineated by caste or religion) maintain resonance and rely upon notions of caste as embodied, or intrinsic.  How have low caste status and the identity of “convert” been reimagined and strategically deployed as markers of respectability? Are there losses resulting from or limits to these new formulations?

  • Wednesday 16 May 2018, 11:00-12:00 - EHESS (room 751) - 54 boulevard Raspail 75006 Paris


The Changing Nature of Nature in Contemporary Sufi Saint Shrine Culture

This lecture discusses ritual and narrative innovations that have developed in South Asian pilgrimage centers in response to environmental degradation and population growth.  Drawing on archival documents, local histories, popular guidebooks, and ethnographic observation, this talk will focus on the history and current ritual life of Husain Tekri, a popular regional pilgrimage center in Madhya Pradesh, India. By placing Husain Tekri in the larger context of Indian sacred spaces, it will suggest that environmental change has forced pilgrims to reconceptualize supernatural efficacy and the ways in which the natural is imagined in relation to divine.  Are scholarly definitions of “sacrality” still relevant?

  •  Wednesday 23 May 2018, 10:00-13:00 - EHESS (meeting room) - 96 boulevard Raspail 75006 Paris


Dargah Culture: The Necessity and Limits of an Idea

In my book The Powerful Ephemeral: Everyday Healing in an Ambiguously Islamic Place, I argued that because Muslim saint shrines in India - commonly known as dargahs - attract devotees from all religious backgrounds, their culture should be viewed as religious culture in its own right, and not as Hindu, Islamic, or a syncretic combination of the two. Taking a Hindu informant as a case study, this talk will draw upon fieldwork and my interviews with her from 2003 through 2018 to revisit my argument about “dargah culture” in the context of an interrelated set of questions: How do non-Muslim devotees of Sufi saint shrines resist obvious and ongoing pressure to identify as Hindu or Muslim?  Has the ubiquitous presence of mobile phones created an original way to preserve a devotee’s unaligned status? What effect has social media had on supporting what were previously liminal relationships?

  • Thursday 24 May 2018, 10:00-13:00 - EHESS (room 123) - 54 boulevard Raspail 75006 Paris