REL 247: Religious Traditions of South Asia

Across South Asia sacred sites have local, regional, and transnational significance: each site is unique, yet each is linked to other sites, histories, myths, practices, identities, economies, and cultures at other sites as well. This digital project maps and traces these multiples meanings through each site’s histories (sacred and secular) and lived religious worlds: as pilgrimage destinations and nodes on pilgrimage networks, as sites of identity production and maintenance, as commercial centers, as architectural and artistic productions, as loci of religious practice, as markers of distinct environmental features, as sites of religious specialization, and more. In multivalent ways, each of these aspects of the sites work together to map a religious landscape onto (or out of) South Asia in which mythology and geography are intertwined.

This project uses Carl Ernst’s “India as Sacred Islamic Landscape” and Diana Eck’s “India: A Sacred Geography” as models for thinking about sacred spaces as interconnected, layered, multivalent. What are the symbolic significances of portraits of landscapes as sacred? What goes into the enactment of sacred landscapes? We are encouraged to think of “the ways in which networks of pilgrimage places compose a sense of location and belonging—locally, regionally, and transregionally.” (Eck, 6) Many of the sites in this project are sites of pilgrimage. Each site has a narrative that constru[es] the land as a landscape pre-dating modern nation-state boundaries and these narratives in some cases are invoked to support nationalist agendas that contest the belonging of other religious communities sharing the land and landscape. This project traces the histories, material/physical features, demographics and human landscape, practices, location, and beliefs of each site, this project aims to present these complex narratives.

This is the first year this project is digital. The goal is that with the use of digital technology the networks, narratives, and lived religious worlds of the South Asian sacred landscape will come more alive and their interconnectedness will become more tangible.

How this project and website works

Each student is in charge of one site and the research and materials for that site—its description (which must include details about location histories, material/physical features, people, practices, and beliefs), images, videos, links, and list of sources. Each student also works in a group, which corresponds with the tabs above, to explore the shared features of each site within one tradition, the ways the sites are connected to others in the group, the constitution of the particular religious community, and the religious tradition overall.