Life @ U of T

Listening to “Subaltern Speaks”

During the busiest parts of the semester, I often find it hard to unwind. My usual sources of relaxation just don’t appeal to me – I have no desire to pleasure read after pouring over academic articles for hours and sometimes, after staring at a screen all day, my eyes can’t handle a session of binge-watching Netflix. Enter, podcasts. I’ve found that putting on my favorite podcast is a great way to not only take my mind off of my busy schedule and the demands of every-day life, but also an amazing way to learn about new topics or expand my knowledge on issues that I’m interested in. The Multi-Faith center has recently launched the second season of their podcast, “Subaltern Speaks,” and it has quicky worked its way into my podcast rotation.

“Subaltern Speaks” is concerned with the experiences of colonized societies, the subaltern, and the way colonialism has and continues to impact their religion, culture and spiritualities. The podcast equally emphasizes the way that these communities have been able to challenge the legacies of their colonial history through mediums such as art, activism, academia and other social and cultural mechanisms, continuing the conversation on the way colonization and decolonization can be dismantled and in spite of this, the way it continues to exist today.

The first episode of this new season of the podcast is a conversation on the “Origins of Hinduism, with Kalpesh Bhatt,” focusing on the history and discourses of the origins of the term Hinduism and the way Hinduism is connected to ideas of colonialism and national identity. Kalpesh Bhatt is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto in the Department for the Study of Religion, Center for South Asian Studies and Center for Diaspora and Transnational Studies. Kalpesh and Yasamin, one of the hosts of the podcast this year, had an extremely interesting and thought-provoking discussion, effectively capturing several of the key ideas surrounding the question of whether Hinduism can actually be considered a colonialist construct and presenting them in a succinct and comprehensive way. They began by addressing the way Hinduism can be defined and how this definition has changed over time. Kalpesh shared that the word Hindu, without the suffix, in early history was linked to geographical terms, as the word Hindu, coming from the Sanskrit word “Sindu” means a large body of water. As time progressed, the suffix “ism” was added to create the word “Hinduism” in the 19th century, and this is when the religious associations began.

As the discussion of the link between Hinduism and the colonial history of India continued and as Yasamin and Kalpesh continued to engage with this question, they made a particularly interesting point, in favor of the argument that Hinduism is not a colonial construct. In addition to the geographical association with the word “Hindu” in early history, Kalpesh highlighted that as scholars have continued to unpack this idea, they suggest that colonial history is in large part created by the colonizer imposing their history on to that of their colonies. The view of Hinduism as a colonial construct can be opposed because the views of Hinduism are constantly evolving and are a process, a process for the colonizer as well as for the people of India themselves. The fact of this process is also what makes this conversation relevant for us, even today.

I found the discussion on this week’s episode of “Subaltern Speaks” to not only be extremely informative but equally enjoyable. Kalpesh and Yasamin are able to present such a complex and nuanced issue in a clear and concise manner, providing a truly engaging and comprehensive discussion of the origins of Hinduism and the link to colonialism. I will definitely be tuning into the next episode! The podcast can be found on streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Anchor.

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