P65. Individual Topics in Asian Studies

Session: Session 9, 10:15-11:45 am, Sunday 10/1

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Quad

Chair: Alina Stetsuk (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Paper Presenters: Abdul Rehman, Kevin Poe

Wretched river? The affectual ecology of urban river Lai in Pujab, Pakistan

Speaker: Abdul Rehman
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-I-Azam University
Abstract: This article navigates the geographies of the Lai Basin (Rawalpindi/Islamabad) to grasp the complex synergy of affective registers of memory and practice to conceptualize the Lai River. I argue that the epistemic iconoclasm of techno-scientific knowledge and social modernity, defining the river as the Nala, the Nullah or the sewer and calling it “Rawalpindi’s greatest problem” requires a conceptual reframing of affect and enchantment. Rivers are not a problem to be dealt with, rather the waterscapes are animate, imbued with emotions. They had an organic relationship with the land and the people associated with them which was eliminated by the epistemicide inflicted through modernity-led-development. I reflect on the conceptualization of Lai River that how conflicting registers constitute the ‘structures of feelings’ that shape and inform the venerations of ‘water is life’ experienced through sociability, spirituality, healing and on the antithetical cursing of water as “wretched river” due to pollution and frequent flooding in the downstream watershed area. I draw on ethnographic interviews with citizen historians, poets, pilgrims, activists, scholars, water experts and residents of Rawalpindi/Islamabad to analyze the memory accounts and oral histories. Instead of understanding river as a techno-managerial problem, I contend on the discourse of ‘water is life” and present an alternative imaginary of Lai River.

At Home in a Storied World: How Sacred Narratives Shape Humanity’s Relationship to the Divine

Speaker: Kevin Poe
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: The University of Chicago Divinity School

In December of 2022 I traveled to Bodh Gaya, India to interview pilgrims on their relationship to the Divine through the lens of the stories they hold dear. What I discovered was a rich tapestry of personally meaningful narratives that point to the important role which sacred stories play in their spiritual lives. I participated and observed in Buddhist pilgrimage to sacred sites, attended talks with sacred people such as the Dalai Lama and Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, and interviewed 15 individuals from diverse backgrounds on their relationship to the Divine. These interviews and experiences reveal that narrative is an innate part of religious experience. In this paper, I analyze this ethnographic research to argue for two main themes to how religious narratives influence people’s personal relationships to the Divine. First, I argue that it is through stories that we are situated within a narrative world in which we find ourselves in relationship with the Divine. Sacred narratives situate us in a world where we are able to interpret the Divine nature of self and others. Second, I examine how stories act as the glue which binds sacred times, places, and people together in a web of meaning. This paper is just a small piece of a much larger project which argues for a way of doing comparative philosophy of religion with a focus on shared value of narrative.