Cast Out: Women and the Politics of Impiety

Hosted by: Humanities Research Centre, Research School of Humanities and the Arts 

Date: Tuesday 5 September
Time: 4.30-5.45pm
Venue: Theatrette, Sir Roland Wilson Building, Building #120, McCoy Cct, ANU

The focus of this paper is women’s expulsion from religious community. Prof Sunder Rajan takes for her examination three literary texts, twentieth- century works of (quasi-historical) fiction written in southern India: A. Madhavaiah’s novel in English, Clarinda (1915); Lalithambikai Antharjanam’s short story in Malayalam, ‘Praticara Devata’ (‘Goddess of Revenge’) (1939); and U.R. Anantha Murthy’s novella in Kannada, Ghattashraddha (1963/English translation1999) and the landmark film based on it (1977). The protagonists of all three texts are Brahmin women who are excommunicated by their caste orthodoxy for sexual transgressions; and all the texts are located at points of historical change indexed as crisis, marked by religious conversion and reform. Prof Sunder Rajan juxtaposes these fictional works with situations in contemporary law in which the issue is perceived in similar terms, as a conflict between tradition and modernity, secular state and religious authority, law and ritual, and individual rights and community and custom. She ends with a comparative theoretical framing of the problematic in terms of the homo sacer of Ancient Roman law, resurrected by Giorgio Agamben as a figure of our political present. As an instance of how the ethical imperative of hospitality is obstructed not only by a community’s hostility to the stranger but also by its rejection of its own members, excommunication alerts us to the shifting boundaries of inside and outside, selfhood and otherness. An understanding of practices of expulsion—of their success as much as their limits—strikes Prof Sunder Rajan as a matter of considerable theoretical interest and political urgency.

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan is Global Distinguished Professor of English at New York University

For more information, see the HRC Seminar Series information: hrc.anu.edu.au/seminars

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