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Stone that Breathes: Counternarratives of Islamic Material Culture

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Webinar Description: The Islamic built environment in India is under tremendous strain today. Adherents of Hindu nationalism continue to disparage mosques in particular as “ocular reminders” of India’s Muslim past. In this fraught context, how can we understand the range of significations that such sites have for Muslims? This talk focuses on mosques on the southeastern coast of India, built in a distinctive style that is rooted in local architectural idioms. Such mosques are an integral part of the Tamil sacred landscape, indexing the region’s longstanding Muslim presence as well as histories of maritime trade and mobility. This presentation explores how the architecture and materiality of the built environment mediate people's connection to the past, and how such sites are spaces of heritage, historical consciousness, and affective resonance. In doing so, this research offers fresh insights into Islamic material culture and questions of religious belonging from a region that has long been considered marginal to the study of Muslim societies.

About the Speaker: Harini Kumar is a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. She is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research focuses on Islam and Muslim societies in contemporary South India, with further regional interests in Southeast Asia and the Americas. Her scholarship lies at the intersection of lived religion, kinship, gender, ethics, the built environment, and migration. Her current book project, Formations of Tamil Islam: Belonging, Place, and Historical Consciousness in South India, is an ethnographic study of Tamil-speaking Muslims' lived experience and religious practices.

Harini's second book project, The Logistics of Religiosity: Transoceanic Muslim Mobility from the Bay of Bengal to the Americas, connects South India, Southeast Asia, and the Americas through the enduring legacy of a Sufi saint. It traces present-day continuities with older logistical networks of trade, indentureship, and migration, providing new perspectives on religious belonging that emerges from an interconnected ocean space.

Dr. Kumar received her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2022. Her research has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the American Institute of Indian Studies, and by several programs at the University of Chicago and Princeton University. 

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