What is the language of heaven? Is Arabic the only language allowed in the eternal world of the virtuous, or will Muslims continue to speak their native languages in the other world? While learned scholars debated the language of heaven since the early days of Islam, the question gained renewed vigor in seventeenth century Istanbul against the background of a puritan reform movement which criticized the usage of Persian and the Persianate canon as sacred text. In response, Mevlevī authors argued for the discursive authority of the Persianate mystical canon in Islamic tradition (sunna). Focusing on this debate, this article argues that early modern Ottoman authors recognized non-legal discourses as integral and constitutive parts of the Islamic tradition. By adopting the imagery of bilingual heaven, they conceptualized Islamic tradition as a diverse discursive tradition. Alongside diversity, another important feature of Persianate Islam was a positive propensity towards innovations.
On a trip to South India in the early 1850s, the German missionary Karl Graul collected a library of Tamil books. His library contains some of the first books that Tamils edited and published for Tamil audiences. This article analyses the Shaiva and Vaishnava works in this collection, arguing that in this early period of Tamil publishing, Tamil Hindus turned to print in part to counter Christian evangelisation. They edited and published texts previously transmitted on manuscripts, in order to build a corpus of Shaiva and Vaishnava printed books that would challenge the Christian monopoly of Tamil print. The article focuses on the editing activities and institutional affiliations of Tamil Shaiva editors, most importantly the prominent scholar Vedagiri Mudaliyar.
Michael Allan and Gauri Viswanathan discuss connections among philology, literary history, and religion, drawing from writers such as Edward Said, B.R. Ambedkar, Zora Neale Hurston, Louis Massignon, and Kumud Pawde. The conversation was initially conducted via Zoom on September 2, 2020, and collaboratively edited for readability.
With the rise of ethnic politics in Nepal, the Limbu (or: Yakthumba) have made increasing use of the Limbu script, also known as Srijanga or Kiranti. Whereas in the past this script was suppressed by the state and known only to a minority, since the return of democracy to Nepal in the 1990s a new literature using this script has come into being. Here, religious books play a prominent role. This essay deals with the emerging importance of the script as a marker of ethnicity since its first general propagation by Iman Singh Chemjong and Phalgunanda Lingden in the early twentieth century. It focuses on the early production of printed books, in particular books published by followers of the Satyahangma movement, which promotes reforms of Kiranti religion and society.
This article presents three recitation versions of two tales from the famous Vetālapañcaviṃśati (VP; the “Twenty-Five Tales of an Animated Corpse”, a medieval Sanskrit anthology of riddle-tales) that made their way orally from South Asia to Europe. The original work is one of the rare Sanskrit texts to have been disseminated widely and over a long period of time. It is a work that has thrived in oral, manuscript and printed versions. The stories in question, recorded in Germany as retold by three Nepali prisoners of war during World War I, show how this pre-modern Indian textual tradition was received into modern vernaculars and recounted in modern settings. It documents the fluidity of texts as dependent on the reciter’s, scribe’s or publisher’s own outlook, as well as on differing times and circumstances. In addition to the text’s long history of transmission, colonialism and print capitalism were further factors that influenced the retelling of the VP.
Rethinking Arabic literary modernity, this article addresses what the act of reading means as Morocco moves from manuscript to print. In 1941, a leading figure of Morocco’s nahḍa, al-Tuhāmī al-Wazzānī, began to serialize his autobiography al-Zāwiya in one of the country’s earliest newspapers. Heralded as Morocco’s first novel, the moment marks the inauguration of a new reading public. Yet the text does not rely upon the reconfigured relationship with the reader accompanying the rise of print cultures in much of the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Zāwiya is a Sufi autobiography, a genre that invites its readers to assimilate the actions found within its pages. Al-Wazzānī draws upon this long tradition, using intertextual engagement to create a space of discourse that complicates the presumed secularity of Arabic literature during the nahḍa. Early Moroccan print culture thus provides an opportunity to reconsider the continuities of tradition embedded within modern literary practices.
The study of the history of print technology in South Asia is a multidisciplinary enterprise which involves attentive consideration of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the region, as well as of the historical time in which print technology was massively adopted, namely the colonial period. Here, we focus on the complex fabric of relationships between print and modes of recording and using texts in long present oral and manuscript cultures, also pointing out the limits of applying interpretative models based on the cultural history of Europe to the histories of print in South Asia. Furthermore, we present aspects of the formative stage of print cultures concerning Vedic, Limbu, Nepali, Newari, and Tamil textual traditions—which are studied in the essays of this special issue. This multi-layered perspective helps making sense of social and cultural dynamics concerning the uses of printed books, the (new) meanings associated with them, and the formation of hegemonic configurations within literary and religious traditions.
In late nineteenth-century Nepal, the advent of print and mass reproduction marked a critical and as yet understudied junction in Nepal’s literary history and attendant manuscript and print cultures. This article employs Nepal’s popular Svasthānīvratakathā to illuminate key shifts and intersections between language of composition, technologies of writing, places of composition or reproduction, and the agents of transmission that are emblematic of local manuscript practices and paradigmatic of the emergent print culture in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Nepal. The practices and actors involved in Svasthānī transmission shifted the text away from the private, domestic sphere to the public, translocal realm on multiple levels. Attending to these shifts as evidenced in one living devotional tradition indexes significant developments and intersections that deepen our knowledge of the changing linguistic, technological, geocultural, and socioeconomic aspects of the literary landscape in Nepal and South Asia more broadly.
This article discusses the first Indian compilation of the four Vedic Saṃhitās into a printed book in the year 1971 entitled “Bhagavān Vedaḥ.” This endeavor was the life’s mission of an udāsīn ascetic called Guru Gaṅgeśvarānand Mahārāj (1881–1992) who in the year 1968 founded the “Gaṅgeśvar Caturved Sansthān” in Bombay and appointed one of his main disciples, Svāmī Ānand Bhāskarānand, to oversee the publication of the book. His main motivation was to have a physical representation of the Vedas for Hindus to be able to have the darśana (auspicious sight) of the Vedas and worship them in book form. This contribution explores the institutions and individuals involved in the editorial work and its dissemination, and zooms into the processes that allowed for the transition from orality to print culture, and ultimately what it means when the Vedas are materialized into “the book of the Hindus.”
Following Eric Hayot’s argument that modernity is a theory of the world as the “universal,” this paper traces the “world concept” in Marvel Comics industry (MC) and its synergy with the film industry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Speaking from the field of World Literature Studies, I show how superhero comics activate the “world concept” through the global dissemination of the infinitely stretchable Marvel Universe. My argument is that by operating in terms of a universe with moldable diegetic rules, the popular culture of MC and MCU does not merely reflect the current state of the world concept, but also affects its evolution and its spread. The universality of the modern worldview has come to be less concerned with the realist effect and more with increasing all-inclusiveness and infinite stretchability. The increased plasticity of the world concept puts a great pressure on world literary ecologies and increasingly expands and shapes what Beecroft called global literary ecology. What Marvel Comics has done in recent decades, especially through the interplay with the film industry, is to show how the expansion of the world concept entails that however large we imagine the world to be, it is always already too small.