Book Talk + Coffee Chat: Protestant Textuality and The Tamil Modern

A talk about Dr. Bernard Bate’s Protestant Textuality and the Tamil Modern by Dr E. Annamalai (Visiting Professor Emeritus in the Department of South Asian Languages & Civilizations, University of Chicago), Dr. Francis Cody (Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Asian Institute, University of Toronto), and Dr Constantine V Nakassis (Associate Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences, University of Chicago)

More about the book:
Throughout history, speech and storytelling have united communities and mobilized movements. Protestant Textuality and the Tamil Modern examines this phenomenon in Tamil-speaking South India over the last three centuries, charting the development of political oratory and its influence on society. Supplementing his narrative with thorough archival work, Bernard Bate begins with Protestant missionaries’ introduction of the sermonic genre and takes the reader through its local vernacularization. What originally began as a format of religious speech became an essential political infrastructure used to galvanize support for new social imaginaries, from Indian independence to Tamil nationalism. Completed by a team of Bate’s colleagues, this ethnography marries linguistic anthropology to performance studies and political history, illuminating new geographies of belonging in the modern era.

More about Dr Bernard (Barney) Bate:
Bernard (“Barney”) Bate (1960–2016) was Associate Professor and Head of Studies in the Anthropology Department at Yale-NUS College. He taught at Yale University for ten years before helping to shape the core social science and humanities curriculum at his new institution in Singapore. A linguistic anthropologist by training, Barney devoted his scholarly life to the study of Tamil political oratory. His first book, Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic: Democratic Practice in South India (Columbia 2009) was based on ethnographic research he conducted in Madurai, Tamil Nadu for his dissertation at the University of Chicago (PhD 2000). It consists of a study of the refined register of Tamil used in political oratory by leaders of the Dravidian movement in the second half of the twentieth century. Arguing that using this ancient sounding language in speech was in fact a relatively recent development, the book examined political rallies to understand how virtuosic speakers interpellated common people as democratic subjects through literary Tamil’s poetic qualities. A mentor to generations of linguistic anthropologists and students of Tamil, Barney’s teaching and writing were both centrally concerned with what he called the “poesy” of language: that palpable quality of speech that lends it world-making capacities. His second major research project brought him to the archives in both Chennai, Tamil Nadu and Jaffna, Sri Lanka in an effort to understand the origins of political speech in Tamil. In a series of articles in published the Indian Economic and Social History Review and Comparative Studies in Society and History, along with a book chapter in the volume Ethical Life in South Asia, Barney explored how protestant missionary efforts introduced a new kind of public address that fused with the aesthetics of Tamil poetics to form modern political oratory in the early twentieth century.

More about Dr E. Annamalai:
Annamalai (Visiting Professor Emeritus in the Department of South Asian Languages & Civilizations) is a linguist trained in India (MA, M.Litt, Tamil Literature – Annamalai University) and the United States (PhD, Linguistics –The University of Chicago) specializing in Tamil grammar and semantics. He served for over twenty years as Professor and Director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, India, where he studied indigenous languages, their documentation, and their use in education; the use of language in society, especially in education; and the study of language diversity and its consequences. He has always been interested in social issues and cultural creativity and he found the study of language a good prism for understanding both. Until last academic year, he taught Tamil language and literature at the University of Chicago for eleven years and before that for five years at Yale University alongside Bernard Bate.

More about Dr Francis Cody:
Francis Cody is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Asian Institute at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on language, media, and politics in southern India. He first brought these interests to bear on a study of citizenship, literacy, and social movement politics in rural Tamil Nadu. This work was published as The Light of Knowledge(Cornell 2013), co-winner of the 2014 Edward Sapir Book Prize awarded by the Society for Linguistic Anthropology. Cody’s more recent research theorizes populism and transformations of political publicity through Tamil and English news media. This work explores questions of law, technology, and violence in claims to representing popular sovereignty, the topic of a book manuscript tentatively titled The News Event. Taken as a whole, his work contributes to the transdisciplinary project of elaborating critical social theories of mass mediation and politics in the postcolonial world.

More about Dr Constantine V. Nakassis:
Constantine V. Nakassis is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Affiliated Faculty in the Departments of Comparative Human Development and Cinema & Media Studies, and Chair of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies. Trained as a linguistic anthropologist, his research spans the social aspects of the Tamil language, youth culture and mass media in South India, film theory and semiotics. He is the author of the 2016 monograph, Doing Style: Youth and Mass Mediation in South India (University of Chicago Press) and is currently working on new book manuscript on the cinema of Tamil Nadu, entitled Onscreen/Offscreen (University of Toronto Press).He is the organizer of the Chicago Tamil Forum, an annual workshop devoted to Tamil language and culture, for which Bernard Bate provided its name, and of which he is a regular and founding member, alongside E. Annamalai and Francis Cody.

November 29, 2021
2 – 3:15 pm EST, Zoom
Admission: Free, with registration
Registration: Register here


Coffee Chat
In order to include colleagues from South Asia and Singapore, we are organizing an informal coffee chat as well to continue the conversation on the brilliant book and Professor Bate’s legacy.

December 1, 2021
9 – 10 am EST, Zoom
Admission: Free, with registration
Registration: Register here

View the full fall schedule here.

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