Nobleman Visiting Saint at his Shrine, 1600s–1700s.
Nobleman Visiting Saint at his Shrine, 1600s–1700s. India, Mughal, 17th-18th century. Color on paper; overall: 21.3 x 13.3 cm (8 3/8 x 5 1/4 in.). The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Coralie Walker Hanna Memorial Collection, Gift of Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. 1939.163

Listening in Many Tongues: Multilingual Interpretive Communities and Acts of Translation in Early Modern South Asia

South Asian Studies Unit, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 21-22 October 2024

See application information

Recent scholarship on South Asia has exemplified the importance of drawing on multilingual sources as well as multi-disciplinary approaches - reading, listening, and visualising the vernacular and the cosmopolitan in conversation, rather than through hierarchical relationships. The overlapping and multidirectional networks of patronage and production have led not only to the creation of new genres of text and performance but also to the articulation of pre-existing traditions within new intellectual milieux and expanding communities of contact and exchange. What has emerged, following the scholarship of Francesca Orsini, Aditya Behl, and Barry Flood, amongst others, is the understanding of translation as a process of transformation and constant reinterpretation: a “dynamic form of production” (Flood 2007, 107) which translates and reinterprets aesthetic categories of, for instance, music and literature in new and constantly shifting contexts. 

Undoubtedly, and building upon the pioneering work of Sheldon Pollock, a focus on ideas and modes of translation across “cosmopolitan” and “vernacular” language models has proliferated scholarship on early modern South Asia. In particular, Francesca Orsini’s scholarly intervention has encouraged us to investigate the ‘multilingual locals’ implied in areas of such contact and exchange. While using this emphasis on translation as a jumping-off point, this conference invites papers on the multivalent methods of translation in medieval and early modern South Asia - methods by which various interpretive communities sought equivalences, reinterpretations, and transcreations between and across literary and performative genres. 

This conference will seek to place scholars working across fields, languages, and geographies on ideas of translation in conversation, such as those concentrating on Ismaili and Sufi studies in Persian and South Asian vernaculars, Jain and Apabhramsa texts in translation, or those across Arabic, Malayalam, and sites in South India. Given the scholarly remit of the South Asian Studies Unit at IIS, we particularly invite papers focusing on Ismaili and other Shiʿi-related contexts in South Asia.

How to submit:

We invite abstracts of 250-300 words by 19th April 2024, emailed to along with a short (ca. 100 words) speaker bio. Speakers will also be invited to contribute to a subsequent edited volume, to be published as part of the IIS’ South Asian Studies Series. 

Contributions are invited on topics including (but not limited to): 

  • Processes of vernacularisation, translation, and reinterpretation 
  • Multilingual literary communities 
  • Cross-cultural encounters 
  • Music, poetry, and devotion in South Asian Islam 
  • Ismaʿili, Shiʿi, and Qurʾanic studies in South Asia 
  • Vernacular devotional expressions within mystical communities in South Asia 
  • Networks of literary circulation 
  • Poetic translation and reinterpretation 
  • Hindu-Muslim philosophical encounters 

A small number of stipends are available for scholars with limited access to institutional funding.

Conference convenors

Venue: Hybrid (Aga Khan Centre, London + Online) 

Dates: 21-22 October 2024 

Please note filming and photography may take place during the conference for educational and promotional purposes.