Lecture: “Complicating Contact Zones”

Lecture Title by Arvind-Pal Sing Mandair: Complicating Contact Zones

Abstract: This presentation brings together three relatively disparate strands of my research related to translation and religion. In the opening segment I explore a new method which not only engages the two distinct fields of translation studies and the study of religion, but productively synthesizes them into a single mode of inquiry whose focus is to search for an enigmatic connection between the very concept of religion and the concept of translation. Tracking this elusive connection, I argue, reveals a “dogmatic image of thought” that determined the nature of the contact zone (and therefore the modern history of translation relations) between different cultures, peoples, texts, and ideas as a “regime of representation”.

In the second segment I demonstrate the influence of this “regime of representation” on the modern encounter between India and the West, specifically by recounting aspects of the history of translation of Sikh sacred texts and its main socio-political effects in the colonial and postcolonial period. One major effect of such translation practices is that they helped to ‘convert’ South Asian peoples to modernity not only by (paradoxically) constructing Hindu/Sikh/Muslim traditions as ‘religions’, but more problematically by interdicting native concepts that resisted being exchanged for the signifier ‘religion’.  The legacy of such translation practices and the interdictions it generated can be felt not only in the contemporary resurgences of religious nationalism in the subcontinent, but also in secular ‘multicultural’ democracies.  

Given that this particular relationship between religion and translation has stultified the contact zone, in the third segment I offer a more personal account of how to revitalize the contact zone which, I argue, is always constituted prior to any actual translation. Drawing upon memories of conceptual encounter as a lived experience my account shifts attention towards what happens before relations between languages/words/concepts become solidified on a particular milieu and settle on a particular enunciation in line with dogmatic regimes of meaning and representation. What this does is to shift the task of translation (and of the translator) towards a form of repetition that manifests intellectually as the creation of new concepts and existentially as self-differentiation.

Conference Title: Translation and Religion: Interrogating Concepts, Methods and Practices

Location and Date: University of Edinburgh, September 1-3rd 2016

Link: Translation and Religion Conference Page


Arvind-Pal S. Mandair
Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures 

Tara Singh & Balwant Kaur Chattha, Gurbax Singh & Kirpal Kaur Brar Professor of Sikh Studies

Philosophy/Religion/Postcolonial Theory/Sikh Studies/South Asian Studies

Email: amandair@umich.edu
Office: 202 South Thayer Street
Office 6016
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-1608

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