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Tag: religion


Symposium highlights ongoing research projects


SAI held its Annual Symposium on April 24 and 25, 2014, titled ‘South Asia Regionalism: Workshops on Shared Challenges and the Way Forward.’ The workshops highlighted and showcased ongoing multi-year faculty research projects supported by SAI. Each workshop was well attended, with about 40 participants at each session.

Tarun Khanna, left, and JP Onnela

Mobile Technology (April 24)

This workshop, led by Tarun Khanna, HBS, and JP Onnela, HSPH, focused on the promise of data from mobile technology and the challenges of using this data. One of the major current challenges is the tension between data privacy, sharing of data to promote scientific research, and the potential insights this data may be able to generate. This project aims to increase knowledge of, and provide better access to services in areas of mobile-healthcare, banking, education, and improve livelihoods.

Participants also discussed the varying ways societies have adjudicated or ignored tensions about privacy, as well as some of the methodological challenges raised by large datasets.  The data and research work done during the Kumbh Mela was also highlighted, which provided powerful insights for further research and teaching on understanding social networks and behavior through studying large data gathered from cell phones used at this mass gathering. In addition, issues about governmental, institutional and regulatory guidelines were also raised.

Next steps for this research project: A small group of faculty and practitioners will meet at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study for a seminar in September to discuss tools that would allow researchers to better understand the dataset’s potential, evaluate options for cross-associating it with other relevant information, and as a result, frame valid research questions that can be empirically answered using info-analytics performed on these datasets.

Full list of participants.

Continue reading →

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Exploring the Kumbh Mela in San Francisco


Eck, center, discusses the Kumbh Mela project

On Friday, April 18, SAI traveled to the West Coast for the first event in its San Francisco Series, ‘Conversations with Harvard Faculty,’ which brings Harvard faculty to California for events on a variety of topics related to South Asia.

Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, Fredric Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Member of the Faculty of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School, engaged with a group of 20 Harvard friends and alumni at the event, hosted by David R. Priest, M.D, HC ’90, a former student of Eck’s.

Eck presented on the Mapping the Kumbh Mela project, a SAI interdisciplinary research initiative that studies the largest human gathering in the world. The Kumbh Mela is a Hindu religious fair that occurs every twelve years at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers on the plains of northern India in Allahabad. The festival took place from January 14 to February 25, 2013 in Allahabad.

Eck explained the origins of the research project, and how interest grew from faculty in many different disciplines. Because of its size and complexity, Eck explained that the Kumbh Mela inspired interdisciplinary research in a number of complementary fields – business, technology and communications, urban studies and design, religious and cultural studies, environmental science and public health.

Throughout her presentation, Eck tracked the evolution of the process. Her presentation raised many questions from the audience about the logistics of coordinating such a large human gathering in a temporary pop-up city. Audience members were also curious about SAI’s role in coordinating the ongoing research project among faculty from different disicplines. The Mela project is an example of a successful interdisciplinary effort where faculty, students, and practitioners who wouldn’t otherwise interact, came together through SAI’s coordination.

Watch a video about the Kumbh:

Check back on our website for information about upcoming SAI events in San Francisco this year, featuring:

Tarun KhannaJorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School; Director of the South Asia Institute

Venkatesh Murthy, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

Alan Garber, Provost, Harvard University; Mallinckrodt Professor of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School; Professor of Economics, Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health

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Exploring sacred geographies in Kolkata


On January 2nd, 2014, the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI) organized a talk in Kolkata, India by Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University, followed by an interactive session and lunch. The event, generously hosted by Gaurav and Parul Swarup at their elegant Alipur home, was well attended by Harvard alumni from Kolkata, as well as friends of the Swarup family.

Professor Eck, who is also on the SAI Steering Committee, spoke about her recent book India: A Sacred Geography as well as elaborated on SAI’s recent Project “Mapping India’s Kumbh Mela,” a multidisciplinary study involving over 50 Harvard faculty, staff and students.

Professor Eck spoke of her early years in Bozeman, Montana and her unique affinity to India’s ‘thirthas’ or religious sites. A labor of love, India: A Sacred Geography traces the footsteps of India’s pilgrims, mapping India’s spiritual landscapes: its mountains, forests, rivers and seashores, ancient sites of her temples and shrines, that are powerful magnets to India’s masses. It is these very pilgrimages, dating back thousands of years, which are an integral part of otherwise diverse religious cultures that continue to bind India as a nation.

The book explores the sacred places of India, taking the reader on an extraordinary trip through the beliefs and history of this rich and profound place, as well as providing a basic introduction to Hindu religious ideas and how those ideas influence our understanding of the modern sense of “India” as a nation.

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Sacred Geographies: India and the US


On Thursday, November 14th, SAI traveled to New York City for the second annual SAI in New York event. Fifty faculty, alumni, and friends of Harvard gathered at the home of Chandni and Mukesh Prasad for a conversation with Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University chaired by Dr. Mukesh Prasad HC ’93.

Professor Eck noted that the topic of the night’s presentation ‘Sacred Geographies: India and the US’ was one that she has rarely spoken about together. Rather, she often spoke about her work on pluralism in the United States separately from her many years of studying religion and pilgrimages in India. Her presentation, accompanied by beautiful photographs, touched upon her new book India: A Sacred Geography, which is a culmination of more than a decade’s work, as well as her previous books such as Banaras: City of Light.

Eck also spoke about her work on the Kumbh Mela, and the multidisciplinary project undertaken by SAI. She noted that her interest in India began when she was a student at Smith College in western Massachusetts. In discussing her work in the United States, she shared the religious dimensions of America’s new immigration; the growth of Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, and Zoroastrian communities in the US and how these communities congregate in temples constructed in their traditional architecture, whether it is in the midst of a farm land in Ohio, a suburb of Massachusetts or the center on New York.

Following her presentation, Dr. Prasad moderated a lively discussion with the audience. One audience member, sitting eagerly in the front row, noted that it was an honor to interact with someone who she found herself referencing often in academic papers.

The Prasad family are sponsors of the SAI Prasad Fellowship, which funds Harvard Undergraduates and graduates to participate each year in internships and hands-on research in South Asia.

Watch a video of the event here.

See gallery below for more photos of the event.

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