Panel 87 at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, March 22-25, 2001
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Transregional Culture-Building 

in Premodern and Early Modern Asia
 
        Organizer: Timothy Lubin (Washington and Lee University)
 
     This panel aims to provide a framework for modeling the processes by which “high cultural” systems have been developed and have spread in premodern and early modern Asia.  The individual papers will examine the creation and consolidation of Sinitic culture in early China (Brooks), the construction of Sanskritic culture and the mechanics of “Sanskritization” in classical South Asia (Lubin), and a comparison of the Islamizing of Bengal and the Buddhicizing of Southeast Asia in the precolonial and colonial periods (Charney).  The broad questions to be addressed are: How do transregional cultural forms relate to the political and social processes they contribute or respond to?  What are the cultural vehicles of such a system (e.g., literary texts, public performances, rites and customs)?  Through what sorts of individuals and institutions are such systems spread?  How are local social and cultural institutions and ideas dealt with by transregional systems (e.g., through accommodation, suppression, redefinition)?  What is the role of a literary language or lingua franca in facilitating a sense of transregional unity?  What is the impact of such link languages on local languages (e.g., replacement, creation of a high register marked by linguistic borrowings, literization and the generation of new genres)?  What sorts of differences are there between transregional culture-building “from above” (directed by religious, political, or economic elites) and “from below” (driven by “popular” appropriations and reform movements originating outside the elites)?  Comparing individual cases across diverse regions and periods is meant to provide an opportunity for identifying common patterns, the better to understand what makes each individual case distinctive.
 
“Sinicization in Pre-Imperial East Asia”

   E. Bruce Brooks (Warring States Project, University of Massachusetts)

Abstract: Between the collapse of Jou sovereignty in the early 08th century and the unification of the Chinese culture area by Chin in the late 03rd century, there occurred a number of developments for which the term “Sinicization” is an imperfect though convenient label.  I will try to suggest, with a glance at the parallel Greek and Indian multi-state situations, why the Chinese case came as it did.  Among the centralizing factors to be considered are: (1) the suppression of non-Chinese peoples and their languages and traditions, (2) an escalation of war and incorporative conquest among the Chinese states, (3) elite propaganda using both genuine and forged texts as authorities in a more or less public debate to establish an effective pedigree for the unity principle, and (4) the emergence of the northern steppe culture as a common enemy.  Meanwhile, centralization was hampered by: (1) the increasing importance, to the militarized state, of the ordinary population, whose interests were essentially pacific, (2) the development of new technologies for defense against sieges, (3) a late-04th-century maverick elite theory that provided a basis for stabilizing the multi-state system, and (4) the lack of an effective counterweight to the polarization brought about by the hostilities at the northern frontier.  Of special interest is the transformation of the “Sinitic” worldview itself during the period, partly by incorporating concepts of rulership and statecraft drawn from India and Iran, and from the lessons of the Alexandrian conquest of Bactria in the late 04th century. It has perhaps not been sufficiently appreciated that the triumphant Sinitic state rejected (or preserved only in a showcase form) what is usually considered the theoretical basis of the typical (Confucian) Sinitic worldview of the previous centuries.    [Top]

“Sanskritic Culture and Sanskritization 

from Above and Below in Classical South Asia”
 
   Timothy Lubin (Washington and Lee University)
 
Abstract: Srinivas used the word “Sanskritization” to describe groups’ efforts to raise their status by adopting the practices and linguistic markers associated with Sanskrit texts and Brahmanical ritual forms.  Historians have used it to denote instances in which religious and political elites have adopted and promoted Sanskritic deities and ideals, and the use of Sanskrit itself as a criterion of cosmopolitanism and universal values.  This paper proposes a model of Sanskritization, examining some crucial moments in the construction of “classical” (literary) Hinduism.  The Sanskritic “great tradition,” propounded by brahmin priests and scholars, has endured over three millennia through a few basic strategies, continuously redefining itself in relation to local factors, which in turn are smuggled into the panregional culture itself.  The Grhya Sutras (6th-2nd c. BCE) applied “high-cult” (shrauta) standards to regionally diverse domestic ritual and customary usage.  This standardization established mechanisms for promoting brahmin authority and accommodating non-shrauta religious formats (e.g., shrine worship) within a “Vedic” framework.  In the early centuries C.E., the Puranas harmonized diverse traditions within an overarching pantheon by identifying or affiliating local saints and deities with Shiva, Vishnu, or the Goddess (while often retaining the local name); the mahatmya knitted local shrines into a pan-Indian geography.  Kings adopted Sanskritic deities as patrons, raising costly temples and striking coins with the deity’s name and image, settled brahmins on donated lands, and patronized Sanskrit literateurs.  The hagiographical literature of the bhakti movement (9th-18th c.) provides a third case, in which the brahmin biographers legitimate even low-caste and female saints in terms of Brahmin standards of holiness.    [Top (Panel Abstract)]
 
“Islamization and Buddhicization 
in Precolonial and Colonial Bengal and Southeast Asia”
 
   Michael Walter Charney (National University of Singapore)
 
Abstract: Recent work on Islamization in Bengal (Eaton 1993) and Buddhicization in Burma (Charney 1999) suggests that these seemingly very different developments have much in common. By looking comparatively at these developments during two phases of changing social relations, this paper seeks to formulate a model for understanding the formation, integration, and maintenance of cultural systems. In the first phase examined, early modern reciprocal social relationships and elite accumulation of agricultural surplus encouraged a system of personal patronage (by ruling elites for themselves and their clients) of saints and arhants and bodies of religious textual specialists. Extraordinary forms of personal piety (e.g., aranya-vasi practices) and religious-language textual orthodoxy according to classical textual norms conferred prestige, and encouraged the acquisition of high-status religious symbols, texts, and titles. In the second phase (the early colonial period), however, popular Muslim and Buddhist communal identities developed in the context of rural dislocation and the commercialization of rural social relations.  This formation was fed by rural religious “specialists,” increased rural literacy in vernacular languages as a result of both religious and secular indigenous schools (independent of the colonial regime), the production and spread of stories reinforcing a Muslim or Theravada Buddhist world-view, reduced emphasis on textual orthodoxy, religious patronage by group conscription rather than by individuals, and the increasing inclusion in traditional agricultural festivals of Buddhist and Muslim symbols, rites, and religious specialists. Thus, parallel changes in the production and transmission of transregional religious cultures accompanied parallel social, economic, and political developments.    [Top]
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