2023 Fall DSR Newsletter: Meetings of Minds

DSR & Faculty's Recent Conferences, Workshops, Lectures & Colloquia

Get a flavour of the impressive range of intellectual exchange activities DSR members are involved in - 2023 began at a breakneck pace and the rest of the year proved to be no different.

On this page you will find an overview of:

  • Conferences
  • Workshops and Lectures
  • DSR Reading and Discussion Groups

Also, coming up in 2024 we have these two major events in the pipeline - follow the links for details!

American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) / American Anthropological Association Conferences

Hosted by the AAR and the SBL, and constituting the world's largest gathering of scholars interested in the study of religion, these organizations' 2023 Annual Meetings took place in San Antonio, Texas, November 18–21. The annual meeting of the Dharma Academy of North America (DANAM) also took place under the umbrella of the AAR gathering. Overlapping these was the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association and the Canadian Anthropology Society/Société canadienne d’anthropologie (AAA/CASCA), which took place in Toronto.

The DSR once again had a fine showing at these gatherings. → Take a look at this summary of our department's participation and contribution to the ever-evolving conversations in these fascinating fields.

Lectures and Workshops

The Annual Jackman Lecture in the Humanities


Drawing on her research into the Bais Yaakov girls' schools and its culture of performance. Naomi Seidman delivered the prestigious Annual Jackman Lecture in the Humanities, the remit of which is to feature a leading humanist at the University of Toronto.  → Read more

Andrew Mellon Foundation Award to Kevin O'Neill and Kamari Clarke

Professors Kevin O'Neill and Kamari Clarke secured this grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation in 2022 for the theme “Evasion: Thinking the Underside of Surveillance.” Their insight is that surveillance today is ubiquitous and scholars have rightly tracked the innumerable ways in which we watch each other. There is, however, an unexplored underside to this era of tracking and capturing this data: a story of evasion. How do people and institutions (for better, for worse) make themselves illegible and thus ungovernable?

The year-long Sawyer Seminar are pursuing this question through the broad thematics of data, law and finance. Each of these threads will extend the study of evasion beyond the typical ambit of surveillance studies and its now overly fixed focus on Europe and North America. They will cast new light on a quickly evolving, global contemporary field of contestation that encompasses protest movements, migration, the criminal justice system, data studies and more, while also shifting the terms of the academic study of power and governance.

Among the events in the series this semester have been "The Citizen Lab," (October 4) with Kevin O'Neill and Kamari Clarke in conversation with U of T's Ronald Diebert and “Black Life in the Wake and the Making of Otherwise Projects," (November 17) hosted by Kamari Clarke. Held at the Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto's Queens Quay Terminal, it featured distinguished guests Christina Sharpe, Canada Research Chair in Black Studies in the Humanities at York University, and poet, novelist and essayist Dionne Brand.

→ Evasion Lab website

The Annual Shri Roop Lal Jain Lecture


Under the guidance of our resident Jain Studies specialist, Christoph Emmrich, this annual lecture has been a feature for the last fifteen years or so here at the DSR, having started life at the Centre for South Asian Studies under various directors.

Ana Bajželj, University of California, RiversideOur visiting lecturer for the September 22, 2023 event was Ana Bajželj, Associate Professor and Shrimad Rajchandra Endowed Chair in Jain Studies in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of California, Riverside. Professor Bajželj's lecture, "Jaina Arguments for the Existence of the Self," examined an 8th-century commentary on one of the most prominent medieval Jaina philosophers and discussed how he develops his arguments for the existence of the self while maintaining his philosophical commitments, as well as how he responds to the challenges of competing philosophical views.

→ Read more

Śivadharmottara Workshop


October featured a three day Śivadharmottara Workshop, from Srilata Raman, organized with the assistance of PhD candidate Jesse Pruitt and Professor Florinda de Simini, University of Naples. Taking as its subject the early text on religious practices and doctrinal issues of the lay saiva community, the workshop involved a comparative reading of the Sansrkit text and commentaries on the Śivadharmottara with the Tamil text and related materials. These were considered under the themes of "Tales of Divine Dismay," "Transmigratory Traces," and "Fall, Punishment and Redemption." Co-sponsored by the DSR, The Sivadharma Project and the European Research Council.

A sampling of the lectures/presentations given by present (and occasionally past!) department members


  • DSR Colloquia 2023-24 Graduate students presenting their work for discussion (September-December)
  • On September 21, PhD candidate Andrew Dade presented "Women's Voices Unplugged: Aural Disturbances and Buddhism Debased" at York University's 'Burma Past and Present: Religion, Ethnicity and Power,' held at the York Centre for Asian Research.
  • Ajay Rao moderated and affiliate faculty member Anver Emon was a panelist in the discussion event, “Critical perspectives on systemic Islamophobia: Current Research, Lived Realities & Possible Futures,” held September 28 and co-sponsored by the Institute of Islamic Studies.
  • Christoph Emmrich delivered a lecture, “Ambedkar’s Dictionaries,” at the symposium “Ambedkar’s Religion” held September 29-30 at the Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, NYC.
  • Kyle Smith was the featured speaker on October 3 at the Charleston Library Society, the Southern United States' oldest cultural institution, for an evening's discussion about “Martyrdom and the History of Christianity.”
  • Online on October 9, Christoph Emmrich delivered “Extending the Play. Redaction, Translation, and Print in an Early 20th-century Lalitavistara from Nepal,” the second Acarya Dharmanand Kosambi Memorial Lecture at the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, India.
  • DSR alumna Teagan de Laronde (BA, 2022, Specialist in Indigenous Studies, double minor in Political Science and Religion), Métis and citizen of Red Sky Métis Independent Nation, was co-leader with Woodsworth College's Professor Jon Johnson of the"First Story" Walking Tour of the St George campus on October 17. Organized specially for DSR members, the tour told from the perspective of Indigenous communities showed how their mark has been firmly left on the city's past and present, and continues to shape its future. → Some photos
  • From October 18-21 the Annual Conference on South Asia took place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with plenty of DSR representation including faculty Srilata Raman, Ajay Rao and J. Barton Scott, affiliate faculty Kajri Jain, and graduate students Ankita Choudhary, Stephanie Duclos-King, Nabeel Jafri, Janani Mandayam Comar, Jesse Pruitt, Anusha Sudindra Rao and Krissy Roghan. Also spotted: alumnus Jonathan Peterson (PhD, 2022) and friend of the DSR Usmon Hamid (PhD, Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations).
  • As part of '(Re)Imagining the Indian Ocean World: A Symposium on Literature and Culture,' held at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey, BC, on October 24 Christoph Emmrich presented his paper “Nepal by the Sea: Travelling the Ocean in Newar Storytelling.”
  • PhD candidate Anne-Marie Fowler participated in the Massey Dialogues event, "Is There A Solution to Political Dysfunction and Horrific Violence?” held on October 26.
  • On October 28, Ronald Charles was a panelist on "To Be or Not To Be: Why Pursue a PhD in Bible?," a Society of Biblical Literature webinar for minoritized students.
  • Suleyman Dost moderated the October 31 event, "Critical Conversations on Islamophobia: Higher Education, Sports and Society." a panel discussion on the intersectionality of the Muslim experience in higher education, industry, sport and society at large.
  • In October, Arti Dhand was a featured guest on BBC Radio’s “Opening Lines,” discussing the Hindu epic, the Mahābhārata.
  • Christoph Emmrich chaired “Reconfiguration and Revival: Newar Buddhist Traditions in the Kathmandu Valley (And Beyond),” an event in The Newars and their Neighbours Annual Lecture Series, held on November 3.
    the Munk School.
  • Shafique Virani presented his paper, “Born Again Muslims: Shared Symbolism in Esoteric Interpretations of Christianity and Islam,” at the Middle East Studies Association annual conference held in early November at the Palais des congrès in Montreal.
  • Jeremy Schipper gave a lecture, "Disability Studies and the Hebrew Bible," at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in California, on its November 9 Community Day of Learning.
  • November 10 and 11 saw the “Buddhist Council of Canada Forum on Buddhism and Wellbeing” • With the participation of DSR instructor Eleanor Pontoriero, postdoctoral fellow Michael Ium, PhD candidate Amber Moore, and DSR alumni Jennifer Bright (PhD, 2017) and Bhante Saranapala (MA, 2006).
  • Postdoctoral fellow Michael Ium presented "Touching the Earth: Experiential Learning in a Buddhist Context for Student Well-Being" to the Faculty of Arts & Science Teaching and Learning Community of Practice. (December)


plus a special mention for "The Body Imagines" event, held on October 26!

An event in collaboration with the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies to mark the retirement of David Novak, Professor Emeritus and J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies Emeritus. We welcomed three DSR alumni back to campus – Dianna Roberts-Zauderer, Paul Nahme, and Yaniv Feller – to give presentations at a well attended and lively discussion. David offered a generous response, in which he thanked his students, teachers, colleagues, and DSR staff, and expressed his gratitude for all that he had learned from his students over the years. This enjoyable and intellecturally engaging event was a fitting tribute to David’s many contributions to the DSR.

The Body Imagines Panel Discussion Event Photo Montage
"The Body Imagines" - October 26, 2023

Overview of DSR Reading and Discussion Groups

Also sprach Zarathustra Translation Group
Description: For those with a good working knowledge of German, a group working on an annotated literary, philosophical, and historically critical translation into English that takes into account all major previous translations in English, French, Italian and other languages of select passages of Also sprach Zarathustra ("Thus spoke Zarathustra") by Friedrich Nietzsche on the basis of vol. 4 of the Kritische Studienausgabe (= vol VI.i of the Kritische Gesamtausgabe) edited by Giorgio Colli & Mazzino Montinari.
Chairs: Christoph Emmrich and DSR alumna Dr. Zoe Anthony



Anthropology of Religion Reading Group
Description: A faculty, graduate student, and postdoc group discussing ethnographic, theoretical, or biographic monographs and thematically grouped articles in the field of the anthropology of religion.
Chairs: Christoph Emmrich and Dr. Ellen Badone, professor emerita




Buddhist Studies Reading Group
2023-24 topic: Discussing Introductions to Buddhism.
Description: Supported by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Centre. Looking at “introductions to Buddhism” proper and “histories of Buddhism” conceived of as introductions, that cover the main articulations of Buddhism through the ages and across the globe. The discussions help historicize past and present introductory literature in the light of the current state of the field and of the participants’ own research. They also help assess the potential of the existing introductory literature in view of the participants' own experiences with participating in or designing and teaching introductory courses as part of current Buddhist Studies curricula.
Chair: Christoph Emmrich

Burma Studies Reading Group
2023-24 topics include discussions of Burma's Pop Music Industry: Creators, Distributors, Censors (Heather MacLachlan, 2011. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press); Repossessing Shanland: Myanmar, Thailand, and a Nation-State Deferred (Jane Ferguson, 2022. University of Wisconsin Press).
Description: Supported by the Centre for South Asian Studies.Graduate students, faculty, and friends working on or interested in Burma come together once every three weeks during the fall and the winter terms to read and discuss books and articles, usually from the fields of anthropology, archaeology, the arts, history, language, literature, media, political sciences, and sociology, occasionally joined by the authors and by immediate specialists. Participants propose and agree on the readings, both at the beginning of the academic year and from meeting to meeting. 
Alternating Chairs: Christoph Emmrich, Rachelle Saruya (PhD DSR 2022, Early Career Fellowship, Robert H. N. Ho Centre for Buddhist Studies), Tony Scott (PhD DSR 2023, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Political Science)

Ethnographies of Christianity Discussion Group
2023-24 topics include The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions (Robbins, 2014) and "Electronic Resurrection: A.I. and Christianity" (CBC, 'On the Go').
Description: An informal gathering of people who are keen to talk about common interests and challenges around writing, ethics, and any other issues related to the broadly ethnographic study of Christianity. Monthly meetings are held in the DSR over lunch. Activities might include presenting a piece of work that’s in the process of being written, discussing a publication of mutual interest, or even reflecting on recent events or news stories.. 
Coordinators: Simon Coleman and postdoctoral fellows Alana Sa Leitao Braga De Souza and Sophia Omokanye


Newar Literature Translation Group
Description: An international group with graduate students and faculty based in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Nepal working on a publication of literary translations into English of 20th and 21st century poetry and short prose in Newar (Nepālbhāṣā). The group includes renowned poet and anthropologist of Nepal Bal Gopal Shrestha. 
Chair: Christoph Emmrich




Practices of Commentary Reading Group: Orality and Written Textuality
2023-24 topic: Orality and Written Textuality, and the interactions between them.
Description: Brings humanities researchers of different backgrounds together to discuss matters of common interest. The group meets once a month in a hybrid mode (i.e., both in person and online). Each session is led by a graduate-student researcher who introduces in 5 to 10 minutes an article, a book chapter (or chapters), or a book on a selected theme. A discussion then follows, open to all participants. Researchers from all universities are warmly invited to participate.contact the group coordinator, Oliver Salem (o.salem@mail.utoronto.ca), who will be happy to help out and/or provide information. 
Coordinator: International Visiting Graduate Student Oliver Salem


Religion Café
2023-24 Topics include sociological ethnography and the US-Mexico borderland; design/materiality and morality
Description: Grad students felt that it would benenficial to create a space that allows them to meet people within the DSR, learn about and from each other's work in a chill and low-stakes way – and form an intellectual community outside the confines of the classroom.To help overcome that feeling weighed down by the "too much to do, not enough time" angst, The Religion Café has been formed to facilitate! It aims to create a capacious and joyful environment. Meeting once a month or so, attendees plan to take turns to read suggested articles or books, listen to podcasts, discuss works-in-progress, have workshops, and just chat – with food and beverages thrown in for good measure!  
Coordinators: Student-led venture, from PhD students Ridhima Sharma and Chiho Tokita, in collaboration with faculty members Amira Mittermaier and J. Barton Scott

Religion, Nationalism and Violence Reading Group
2023-24 topics include discussion of Israeli political philosopher Adi Ophir's In the Beginning Was the State (2023).
Description: From Palestine to Tigray, Bosnia to Sri Lanka, recent decades have witnessed a surfeit of religious or “divinely sanctioned” organised violence whose purpose has been to consolidate or consecrate national identity. Such violence, intractable to understanding or preventive action, nevertheless seems integral to the modern state and its citizens. This reading group is a response to the inadequacy of rationalist, psychological and historical materialist approaches to this problem. It is an effort to think about two questions. What is the role of violence in human being? What is the state’s relationship to divinely sanctioned acts of violence? We will be engaging with scholarship across disciplines with a focus on writers who address the ontological and theological dimensions of religious nationalism. 
Coordinator: MA student Ashik Kumar

Yehan Numata Program in Buddhist Studies: Annual series of reading group meetings and lectures with invited speakers
2023-24 topics include "Race and Whiteness in American Buddhism" (Ann Gleig, University of Central Florida), "Blunders, Wonders, and Dreams: Feasting the Buddhist Divine in Medieval China" (Yi (Allan) Ding, DePaul University) and “The Life of the Buddha and for how long his Teaching will Endure” (Leonard van der Kuijp, Harvard University).
Description: A joint effort from the University of Toronto and McMaster University, with the events hosted alternately by the two institutions. Undertaken with the support of the University of Toronto and McMaster University Yehan Numata Buddhist Studies Program, the Numata Lecture Series is funded by the Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai and features leading scholars in Buddhist Studies. 
Coordinated by Christoph Emmrich and PhD candidate Andrea Wollein



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