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“Thus it is said...”: The Role of Scripture in Legitimising South Asian Sectarian Communities

This panel calls for current research on the formation of religious traditions in South Asia with a focus on scripture. It explores how scripturalisation and the various processes it involves has helped establish communities within authoritative rubrics during their critically formative years.

id: lbnt5


· Avni Chag SOAS (None, United Kingdom)
· Kush Depala Heidelberg University (Heidelberg, Germany)
· Brian A. Hatcher Tufts University (Medford, United States of America)

Long Abstract

This panel seeks to revitalise the study of ‘scripture’ in the South Asian context by considering its role within sectarian community formation. It is especially interested in the processes used in formalising scripture. Examples include the reuse of quotations and concepts; translations into authoritative languages; attribution of authorship to a deity or authoritative leader; stylisation according to śāstric norms; inclusion of concepts to appeal to historical contextual authorities; and dissemination and print. Such processes point to how a community seeks legitimacy through texts to situate itself within accepted authoritative rubrics. We encourage cross-disciplinary approaches that address how scripturalisation processes have featured in various cases of community formation, the consolidation of authority through scripture, and the contexts that have pressured nascent groups to literalise and scripturalise their doctrinal positions. We hope this will encourage fruitful discussion on how scripture features as an important marker in the study of community formation and legitimisation. Further related questions could include: How were processes involved in scripturalisation simulated and intended to serve a temporary need? For example, making a text look older than it is, attributing it to an authoritative person, or reusing authoritative quotations and concepts that disagree with the tradition’s distinct doctrinal position. What extent has a group compromised literalising its doctrinal positions in its aim to acquire credibility? And how do we understand such texts that have become permanent markers of a sectarian group’s identity today? Respondent: Brian Hatcher