Skip to content Skip to navigation

University of Pennsylvania 2019 Graduate Student Conference on the Vernacular and Cosmopolitan

University of Pennsylvania

Nov 16 2018

Vernacular and Cosmopolitan in South Asian Islam University of Pennsylvania, April 5-6, 2019 The South Asia Center, Penn Forum for Global Islamic Studies, and Department of Religious Studies of the University of Pennsylvania invite graduate students of all stages to consider the intersections of the vernacular and cosmopolitan in South Asian Islam. The conference will be oriented around constructive consideration of written work submitted by presenters prior to the conference. The conference will be driven by the following questions:


• What do we mean by the categories of “vernacular” and “cosmopolitan” in South Asia?

• How does religion, especially Islam, impact these concepts?

• What are the traces, resonances, and permutations of the Muslim cosmopolis in contemporary South Asia?


How are we to understand the intersections of the local, parochial and popular with a cosmopolitan, even global, worldview in South Asia? How do Muslim religious concerns map onto political ambitions or a history of emotions? Recent scholarship has explored the possibilities of vernacular cosmopolitanism, a term that encompasses contradictory notions of local specificity, global identification, and even universal enlightenment. New combinations of identities - working class cosmopolitan, cosmopolitan ethnicity, cosmopolitan nationalism - have emerged out of a postcolonial context where colonial representations of a universalized cosmopolitan consciousness were questioned. At the same time, questions have emerged over the boundaries of vernacular. Does a consideration of the vernacular cosmopolitan demand an emphasis on non-elite, even subaltern, narratives, or does it include an attempt to capture non-European but high cultures exemplified by the Urdu and Persian literary tradition? Sheldon Pollock's Sanskritic cosmopolis was characterized by a non-European but distinctly elite literary culture distinguishable from the localized traditions that had preceded it. Seema Alavi's recent work has posited the existence of a Muslim cosmopolis in the 19th century, characterized by an intellectual sensibility and global networks clustered around an elite Persian, "vernacular" Urdu, and an increasingly Indianized Arabic tradition. Through ethnography of contemporary Sufi networks, Pnina Werbner has argued that these concepts must be understood through their local formation and circulation. There is a need to evaluate the analytical force of religion as a conceptual category in these conversations. This so-called Muslim cosmopolis is implicitly linked to a global self-consciousness crucially motivated not only by confessional content, or religion explicitly invoked, but also by imperial rivalries and courtly ambition.

Guidelines for submissions: Please submit a 500-word abstract outlining your topic along with a title and your name, institution, and year of study by January 7, 2019. Limited grants are available to supplement travel costs and can be requested via a Google Form during abstract submission. Accepted presenters should submit their final drafts by March 22nd, 2019 so as to provide sufficient time for review prior to the conference. Conference applications should be submitted via this Google Form: Questions may be directed to Ali Noori and Max Dugan via and