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35 | Talismanic Writing: Powerful Texts

This panel explores how powerful signs, symbols and formulae enable texts to act in the world. Interdisciplinary approaches to the decipherment and analysis of talismanic writings will engage multiple overlapping fields of meaning, including the aesthetic, affective, religious, and historical.


· Nandini Chatterjee University of Exeter (Exeter, United Kingdom)
· Elizabeth Thelen University of Exeter (Exeter, United Kingdom)


· 07/28 | 15:30-17:00 UTC+2/CEST
· 07/28 | 17:30-19:00 UTC+2/CEST

Long Abstract

In this panel we seek to explore forms of writing in South Asia whose meanings and effects extend beyond the content of the text, invoking and performing authority, legitimacy and divine or supernatural efficacy. Such forms range from the scribing of amulets and charms to the talismanic components of more prosaic texts, such as curses and injunctions inscribed on stone, metal and paper; legends on coins; oaths and promises in political agreements; and seals, symbols, and signatures on legal documents. We wish to understand how the symbolic uses of texts, as well as their material composition and structure, invoke and evoke power and render the text efficacious in the world. Beyond their goal-oriented or instrumental purposes, we also seek to understand how they become efficacious in embodied, affective, and performative modes of social interaction. Hence we will consider the ways in which texts confederate with equally powerful entities – ink, seals, stamps, gifts, edibles, and sacred objects – to form assemblages with the capacity to convey respect, inspire dread, and create trust. The panel aims to draw on the insights of various disciplines, such as history, anthropology, political theory, art history, literary and language studies, numismatics and archaeology, in order to shift attention to the material, visual and graphic features of texts as a specific investigation into the modes of power and language use in South Asia.