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The (vanished) Nature of the Sacred: The Shifting Moral and Ecological Landscapes of Delhi


March 10, 2016
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
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Colloquium with Anand Vivek Taneja (Vanderbilt University). For Religious Studies faculty, graduate students, and Stanford-affiliated guests. Lunch served; to receive a copy of the reading for the discussion, RSVP from your stanford.edu address to Emily Atkinson.

In this paper, I draw on eighteenth and nineteenth century accounts of prominent Sufi shrines in Delhi to show how these shrines were integrally connected to the ecology of the city. I follow these accounts with my own visits to these sites in the contemporary city, where they have been completely disconnected from the ecological. Through oral histories, I show how this disconnect can be attributed to colonial policy, post-colonial growth, and pollution, all of which have radically changed the ontology of the sacred in the city from one of immanence, embedded in the local landscape, to one of immaterial transcendence. Only at a few sites like Firoz Shah Kotla, protected from development by archaeological policy, is an older memory and modality of the sacred still possible. The remembrance of older relations to the ecology includes the sanctification of the animals encountered in this space, which also serves as a critique of the anthropocentric biases of reformist Islamic piety.

Anand Vivek Taneja is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Anthropology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. His research and teaching interests include the anthropology of religion, historical and contemporary Islam and inter-faith relations in South Asia, everyday life and post-colonial urbanism, Urdu literature, and Bombay cinema. His peer-reviewed articles have been published in the Indian Economic and Social History Review,  HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He is currently working on a book on time, Islam, and enchantment in the medieval ruins of Delhi.