Sacred Spaces   
monday 23rd february at Hall No 3 Siri Fort Auditorium 10.00 am - 12.30 pm  



Sacred Domesticity -  Geeta Chanda

Marriage is considered sacred not only because of religious sanction but because of the commitment it implies on the part of the couple to uphold the purity and traditions of the home. The burden of protecting the sanctity of the home tends to fall primarily on women. Rama Mehta’s semi-autobiographical novel Inside the Haveli traces how the Bombay dwelling protagonist Geeta unlearns her cosmopolitan ways and is seduced into becoming the guardian of traditional mores of a feudal, Rajasthani haveli. Set at a historic moment in India when the princely, feudal life-style was under threat from an encroaching modernity of the nuclear urban life-style, Geeta embodies the threat and brings it into the heart of the haveli. The novel traces her gradual acculturation and the rituals that give her a stake in the continuity of the haveli lifestyle. Ultimately the sacred lamp of the home is seamlessly handed on from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law  to ensure the continuity of the haveli lifestyle. 

Geetanjali Singh Chanda is a senior lecturer in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Yale University. Her book Indian Women in the House of Fiction was published in May 2008, and explores the idea of home in the works of Indian women writers in English. She has previously taught at Hong Kong University and Gettysburg College. Her research interests and publications include issues of feminist and transcultural pedagogy, cultural dialogue, popular culture and postcolonial literatures. Her most recent publication is a co-authored work on Sikh masculinity in The Journal of Men and Masculinities. 


Sacred Space in Three Novels by Raja Rao - Janet Powers   

In exploring the use of sacred space in literature, we must first ask what is necessary for space to be considered sacred.  Is it merely a matter of consecrated space, such as a church, a temple or a mosque?  Or does the novelist have the power to render any space sacred by the way in which he describes it or makes use of it in his narrative?  If we assume the latter possibility, the novels of Raja Rao, many of which revolve around the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta, spring quickly to mind. I will deal briefly with three scenes from three different novels by that writer: Kanthapura, The Cat and Shakespeare, and The Chessmaster and His Moves.  In Kanthapura, we will examine a sacred space re-consecrated by the experience of women, locked in a temple, who sing bhajans and feel a sense of communal ecstasy.  The Cat and Shakespeare offers us an Advaita Vedantin who, through the philosophy of the kitten carried by the mother cat, transforms a ration shop into sacred space.  A complicated narrative, The Chessmaster and His Moves, contains a ritual expiation which takes place in a public space rendered sacred by an improvised ceremony.  These three examples of space made sacred are each central to their respective narratives and reflect the novelist’s ability to verbally transform ordinary space into sacred space, in order to heighten meaning.  

Janet M. Powers has taught at Gettysburg College for more than 45 years and helped to initiate the Asian Studies program with courses on South Asian Civilization, Literature of South Asia (in translation) and Indian Literature in English.  She has served as President of the Middle Atlantic Region/Association for Asian Studies (1997-98) and in 2004 received the Distinguished Asianist Award from that organization.  She has published widely on South Asian literature, including the following "Rhythm in Raja Rao's Cat and Shakespeare", "Raja Rao:  Three Tales of Independence", Raja Rao's Cow of the Barricades: Two Stories", "Kanthapura:  India En Route to Independence" and delivered papers on many subjects including "Indian Literature in Translation:  An Historical, Interdisciplinary, and Comparative Approach" and "Representations of Women in Indo-English Fiction". Her recent articles deal with pedagogy as well as Indian writing in English:  “The Outsider’s Gaze” in Katherine J. Mayberry (ed.) Teaching What You’re Not: Identity Politics in Higher Education,“Polyphonic Voices in Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us” and “Macaulay’s Minute on Education” and “Partition Literature”.

Her most recent work, a book involving peace studies, will be published in December.   Kites over the Mango Tree: Restoring Harmony between Hindus and Muslims in   Gujarat.               


 "Spirituality and the American Road" -   Gordon Slethuag

In his seminal poem, “Song of the Open Road,” Walt Whitman characterized road journeys as simultaneously physical, intellectual, and spiritual.  Others such as Jack Kerouac in On the Road followed in that tradition, but the film Easy Rider destroyed that paradigm, and it has taken almost fifty years to reinvent it.  That reinvention comes from a most unlikely source, the director David Lynch, who is best known for his condemnation of American suburban life, but in several of his films, including the Elephant Man and Straight Story, he evokes a profound spirituality as part of the road.  This paper will explore the relationship of spirituality and the road in Whitman, Kerouac, Easy Rider, and the films of David Lynch. 

Gordon Slethaug is Visiting Professor of English Studies at the University of Southern Denmark.  Formerly of the University of Hong Kong and the University of Waterloo in Canada, he has been visiting Lingnan Professor at Sun Yat-sen University, China, and has been Senior Fulbright Professor. He specializes in American culture, including literature and film.  He also researches in globalization and international education.  He has published many articles and four books, including John Barth; The Play of the Double in Postmodern American Literature; Beautiful Chaos; and Teaching Abroad.




 "The Sacred Space of Sisterhood in Hong Kong Fiction and Film" -  Staci Ford

21st Century Hong Kong is, on the surface, a commercial, capitalistic, masculine and highly secular space.  Yet women's narratives of life in late 20th/early 21st century Hong Kong offer another view of the city. In these stories, personal relationships take on particular significance and the spiritual side of postmodern urban life becomes apparent.  The small spaces of daily life are imbued with reverence and the most secular of urban spaces becomes a sacred refuge.   As women struggle to survive trauma and loss, they turn (often unwillingly or unexpectedly) to other women who can relate to their individual circumstances, offering comfort, support, and wisdom.  The sisterhood formed in these stories is often fragile or fleeting, but it has a sacred quality to it that transcends the quotidian concerns of individual lives.  This paper will consider women’s cultural production narrating the creation of a sacred space of sisterhood in the most unlikely urban spaces of Hong Kong.   Two films will be discussed:  “My Mother is a Belly Dancer,” (Screenplay by Erica Lee and Susan Chan Suk-Yin, 2006) and “The Mistress,” (Screenplay and Direction by Crystal Kwok, 1999).  The paper will also consider the fiction and essays of Xu Xi from 1997 to the present.  As Hong Kong urban space becomes sacred space, readers and viewers are prodded to expand and refine traditional notions of faith, belief, spirituality, and the sacred.   

Staci Ford is an Honorary Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong.  She recently completed a year in the U.S. as a visiting lecturer at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. Her publications focus on transnational American studies, comparative women's/gender studies, U.S. history, and diasporic/expatriate cultural production. Her book Mabel Cheung Yuen-Ting's An Autumn's Tale *was published by Hong Kong University Press in April 2008. Her current publications include a co authored work on Sikh masculinity. 







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