The conference, organised by Dr Samira Sheikh, was a gathering of over 80 delegates from around the world with a programme of 14 presentations illustrating a wide range of South Asian Muslim devotional expressions. Speakers explored links between devotional forms and reflected on the relationship between religious traditions and their lived expression. The conference highlighted the plurality in the expression of Muslim belief in the Indian Subcontinent and new approaches to the study of texts and traditions from South Asia. The Institute is considering the publication of selected papers from the conference proceedings.
This year’s conference complemented the Workshop on Community and Civic Life: New Directions in the Study of the Ismaili Living Traditions of South Asia held by the Department of Academic Research and Publications on 4th of December, 2005, where four panellists presented their perspectives on the formation and negotiation of identity of the Ismailis of the Indian Subcontinent from the nineteenth century to the present.
The conference at the Ismaili Centre was accompanied by an exhibition, entitled ‘Devotions to the Divine’, of select materials from the collections of The Institute of Ismaili Studies, curated by Alnoor Merchant and Shellina Karmali. Delegates were also able to enjoy a tour of the Ismaili Centre and a musical performance by the Ektara group from Bengal who performed in the mystical Baul tradition, an example of the synthesis between Muslim and Indic traditions that is characteristic of the subcontinent. The conference concluded with a keynote address by Dr Aziz Esmail, who urged delegates to question categories such as ‘devotional’ and gave an exposition of themes from classical literature.