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Asia Beyond Boundaries: Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Primary Sources from the Premodern World

Monday 27 August 2018 - Friday 31 August 2018
Museum Volkenkunde
Steenstraat 1
2312 BS Leiden

The 5-day international conference Asia Beyond Boundaries: Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Primary Sources from the Premodern World will unite a wide range of scholars—working in the fields of history, archaeology, religion, anthropology, art history, classics, and philology—in an effort to explore new perspectives and methods in the study of primary sources from the premodern world. This conference represents the culmination of the European Research Council (ERC) Synergy project Asia Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State, a research consortium of the British Museum, the British Library and the School of Oriental and African Studies, in partnership with Leiden University.

The first two days of the conference (August 27th and 28th) will be focused on project specific research presented in four thematically organized panels:

  1. Text and Beyond
  2. Material and Beyond
  3. Language and Beyond
  4. Religion and Beyond

Wednesday, August 29th, there will be a chance to visit exhibits of special collections in Leiden University and the Museum Volkenkunde.

The final two days of the conference (August 30th and 31st) will have panels with a broader  thematic focus, aiming to create a trans-disciplinary dialogue that explores key questions related to the following themes:

  1. Narrative Form and Literary Ideology
  2. Imperial Landscapes and Regional Identity
  3. Religion, Politics and Wonder-working
  4. Environmental History and Material Matters

Panels on August 27th & 28th:

1. Text and Beyond:

  • Sam van Schaik (moderator): British Library, London
  • Gergely Hidas: British Museum, London
  • Daniel Balogh: British Museum, London
  • Lucas den Boer: Leiden University
  • Robert Leach: University of Zurich

2. Material and Beyond:

  • Michael Willis (moderator): British Museum, London
  • Robert Bracey: British Museum, London
  • Anna Filigenzi: University of Naples
  • Janice Stargardt: University of Cambridge
  • Nico Staring: Leiden University

3. Language and Beyond:

  • Nathan Hill (moderator): SOAS, University of London
  • Marc Miyake: SOAS, University of London
  • Tom Hoogervorst: Leiden University
  • Lewis Doney: Universität Bonn
  • Charles DiSimone: Universität München

4. Religion and Beyond (Interactions Between Vaiṣṇavism and Śaivism, with special reference to the Skandapurāṇa):

  • Peter Bisschop (moderator): Leiden University
  • Hans Bakker: University of Groningen
  • Judit Törzsök: Université Lille III
  • Yuko Yokochi: Kyoto University
  • Nirajan Kafle: Leiden University

Panels on August 30th-31st:

1. The panel Narrative Form and Literary Ideology investigates the use of narrative to craft rhetorics of community and identity in the premodern world. Engaging with a wide variety of literary genres and styles—from epics and belles-lettres to travelogues and birth narratives—the panel is particularly concerned with the ideological dimensions of narrative literature, and accompanying questions of authorship, audience and patronage.

To what extent did narratives serve as vectors for social change, as stages to contest norms, or as tools to perennialize boundaries? How were narratives embedded in particular places and times? Alternatively, how did narrative forms and literary ideologies transcend spatial and temporal constraints?


  • Jim Fitzgerald (key): Brown University
  • Csaba Dezsö: Leiden University
  • Amy Langenberg: Eckerd College
  • Max Deeg: Cardiff University
  • Benjamin Fleming: Hunter College

2. The panel Imperial Landscapes and Regional Identity engages with recent scholarship on the development, expansion, and transformation of political landscapes. Combining the study of particular sites, [inter]regional economic networks, and imperial geographies, the panel examines the ways in which interventions in the physical and built terrain served as a means of self-styling for rulers of imperial and regionally embedded polities. These studies also raise broader questions concerning the participation and investment of other social groups—e.g. religious specialists, artisans, merchants, agrarian communities—in designed landscapes.

How were regimes of power articulated and contested spatially and over time? To what extent did imagined or idealized geographies inform the socialization of spaces, memorial practices, and the allocation of resources in a region? How might we use politically engineered landscapes to map the interactions of historical agents and the dynamics of acculturation in the premodern world?


  • Richard Payne (key): University of Chicago
  • Emmanuel Francis: CNRS, Paris
  • Vincent Tournier: EFEO, Paris
  • Jason Neelis:  Wilfrid Laurier University
  • Lidewijde de Jong: Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

3. The panel Religion, Politics and Wonder-working starts from the perspective that religion and politics in the premodern world were thoroughly enmeshed. The panel specifically investigates the various ways in which a sense of wonder or awe created by and associated with objects, places, people and rituals, was integral to the expression and experience of religious authority. Ruling elites and those aspiring to power, in turn, sought to mobilize religious media in the service of their own agendas.

How was wonder created, maintained and transmitted though religious media? How and why did historical agents—religious specialists, rulers, and other actors—invest in the production of monuments, texts, and practices associated with wonder-working? And, perhaps most importantly, how did the evocation of wonder make religion persuasive in the premodern world?


  • Leslie Orr (key): Concordia University
  • Elizabeth Cecil: Florida State University
  • Laxshmi Greaves: Cardiff University
  • Jonathan Silk: Leiden University
  • Petra Sijpesteijn: Leiden University

4. The panel Environmental History and Material Matters integrates the study of material culture with considerations of built landscapes and human interactions with and within the natural world over time.  Moving between the disciplines of art history, archaeology, and anthropology, the contributions to this panel use objects, places, and physical terrain to access the development of economic, political, and social networks across regions.

How might we approach disparate objects and sites—from ceramics and cities to paintings and ports—as evidence of the interactions of humans with their environments over time? Can we conceive these sources as materialized expressions of identity and community in the premodern world? And to what extent can the lived world of premodern agents be accessed through the surviving material evidence?


  • Miriam Stark (key): University of Hawaii
  • Miguel John Versluys: Leiden University
  • William Southworth: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
  • Divya Kumar Dumas: University of Pennsylvania
  • John Guy: Metropolitan Museum of Art
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