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Ritual Necessities and Pure Worlds - a case study of Jewish ritual practice in twelfth century Malibarat, South India

Ritual Necessities and Pure Worlds - a case study of Jewish ritual practice in twelfth century Malibarat, South India
170 St. George Street, JHB Room 100
Time: Jan 14th, 4:00 pm End: Jan 14th, 6:00 pm
Interest Categories: South Asian, Religion, Study of (FAS), 1500-1800, 1200-1500
Lecture by Elizabeth Lambourn, De Montfort University

The John E. Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures on Religious Materiality in the Indian Ocean World, 1300-1800 is pleased to present:

Elizabeth Lambourn, Reader in South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies, De Montfort University, UK

Ritual Necessities and Pure Worlds - a case study of Jewish ritual practice in twelfth century Malibarat, South India

At a time when most sources present few individuals and no personalities, personal faith and individual religious practice have found little place in the larger narratives of medieval Indian Ocean history. Discussions of religion have operated at the macro level of religious institutions and networks or, under banners such as "Islamization," large scale, longue durée processes of trans-cultural encounter and socio-cultural change. The ‘India Book' documents - the some 500 documents from the Cairo Geniza first identified by S. D. Goitein in the 1950s as products of the commercial exchanges between the Middle East and the Indian Ocean world - offer the opportunity to engage in another scale of inquiry, at the level of the lived practices of one Jewish individual and his peer group.

This lecture embraces the microhistorical scale of the ‘India Book' documents and starts its investigation among the 173 items of luggage packed by the India trader Abraham Ben Yiju as he and his household sailed from the south western coast of India for the Yemen in 1149 CE. What in this complex distributed object - an individual item such as the bottle of wine or the rat trap, or perhaps a pattern such as the significant quantities of wheat or the apparent paucity of earthenwares and glazed ceramics - marks this assemblage as one that could only have been assembled, made, by a Middle Eastern Jew? If our first encounter was with the mountain of luggage itself rather than with the list in its tell-tale Hebrew script, would we be able to determine that it belonged, not just to a merchant from the Middle East or the Islamic Mediterranean, but to a Jewish merchant rather than a merchant of another faith? The answers to this question take us along the transregional foodways of the twelfth century Indian Ocean world and deep into the material taxonomies of rabbinic Judaism, foregrounding in the process a culturally specific and unique materiality too often overlooked in the history of world material cultures.

This event is free and open to all. Registration is not required. For further information, please contact the Sawyer Seminar.

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