This multi-disciplinary project has several objectives: To further improve the knowledge of south Indian Muslim society, which is understudied in comparison with scholarship on Muslims in North India; To contribute to the renewal of Islamic studies while putting emphasis on the “local”, not by locating Muslim pockets within multi-confessional spaces, but by focusing on processes of “Islamization of the local”; While studying the impact of transnational circulations on social spaces and local forms of religiosity in India, we want to analyze an understudied dimension of the triangular relationship between South Asia, Southeast Asia East and the Arabian Peninsula.
This exploratory project integrates a major field of research articulating processes of mobility, exchanges and globalization. In recent years, academic research on the South Asian diaspora has tended to focus mainly on Indian (Hindu) communities located in Europe and North America, as well as on micro-societies of lower-skilled migrant workers in the Persian Gulf countries. However, long-term relationships with Southeast Asia and the rest of the Indian Ocean have always existed, a neglected field in academia. Material (goods, labor, ritual objects and texts) and immaterial flows (capital, ideas, and knowledge) between these cultural areas were maintained and partly recomposed, notably since the colonial period. What is more, scholarship describing how communities of Indian origin were integrated into several Southeast Asian contexts (i.e. Malaysia, Singapore, and Burma) often hid the dialectical dimension between these two cultural areas. It has been mainly apprehended it through a diffusionist model by analyzing the influence of Indian culture, religion and social structure on the formation of diasporic societies. Considering the transnational dimension of dynamic networks throughout the Indian Ocean, we propose to take into account not only the transformation of the relationship to and imaginaries about the homelands, but also the impact of circulation, traffic and trade on the structure of territories in home/native countries.
Ideally located along shipping routes between China, the Mediterranean Sea and East Africa, ancient ports in India and communities of Muslim merchants and traders always took advantage of their double opening to Southeast Asia and to the Arabian Peninsula. Each of the pre-identified fieldwork sites, located along the western and eastern coasts of the Indian subcontinent is linked to a regional and transnational space through social, economic and religious networks which have been diversely mobilized and maintained over time. This is the case of Parangipettai or Porto Novo, a small locality situated along the coast of Coromandel, conceived as a laboratory of transnational practices, as a place articulating flows from the Tamil Muslim Diaspora settled either in Southeast Asia or the Arabian Peninsula. How are these communities and coastal territories articulated to each other? What are the nature and shape of these Muslim networks of fishermen and craftsmen, merchants and entrepreneurs, missionaries and clerics? Since when and to what ends are the links with the diaspora mobilized, maintained or reinvented?
This project also relates to the field of history and anthropology of Islam in several ways: indeed, the selected sites for conducting surveys, as well as the coastal territories in which they are embedded, will serve as a matrix to study the phases of Islamization of Indian society. Observing the competition between different forms of Islam will help to understand how the local is regulated and re-articulated to the global. Emphasis will also be put on the role of Sufism and other Islamic movements in the genesis of social and religious transnational networks.
- Dr. ZARIN AHMAD, Postdoctoral Anthropologist
- Dr. ERIC DENIS, Geographer, CNRS/Géographie-Cités