The Newsletter

New Religious Movements

The Indian-based BKWSU arose from a Hindu cultural base, but distinct from Hinduism. It began in the 1930s as a small spiritual community called Om Mandli (Sacred Circle), consisting primarily of young women from the Bhai Bund community of Hyderabad Sindh, now part of Pakistan. Since the 1960s the community has been known as the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKWSU), translated from the Hindi, ‘Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya’. It is significant that the movement included a ‘world’ focus in its name, even though active overseas expansion did not begin until 1971.

The Politics of Dress

The carnival of colour that accompanies the annual summits of Asia Pacific Rim leaders in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group is a unique event of political fancy dress. This invented tradition recorded in the annual formal photographs requires all participating political leaders to wear clothing deemed typical of the host nation. The public sharing of fashion across cultures suggests a willingness to consider the world from an alternative perspective - walking in another’s shoes - even if only for a very short period ...

Transnational marriage in Asia

“He’s everything to me. Because when I’m with him, I’m respectable. I’m a success now (jadi orang). Before I was scum, always being taunted by people, being laughed at, being sneered at because of my work, my immoral work. That’s why I’m so grateful – truly grateful – to have my husband”. Former Indonesian sex worker, Ani.

Asia's Colonial Photographies

Accounts of colonial photography in the Dutch East Indies focus on European photographers and exceptional figures like Kassian Cephas, the first (known) native Javanese photographer. Yet photography was not simply a ‘European’ technology transplanted from the European metropole to the Asian colony. Decentring European photographers from the history of photography in the Indies reveals the more circuitous - and Asian - routes by which photography travelled to and within the archipelago.

Comparative Intellectual Histories of Early Modern Asia

The Master Class on “Comparative Intellectual Histories of the Early Modern World” was held at the International Institute for Asian Studies in Leiden in May-June, 2006. The idea of a master class – assembling a team of scholars to discuss recent advances in a field with doctoral and postdoctoral students – is the brain child of IIAS’s former director, Wim Stokhof, and I express my thanks to him for his vision and energy in making this intellectual experiment possible.

Underworlds & Borderlands

A housewife in Kolkata buys bhindi (okra) from her neighbourhood vegetable seller for her child’s dinner. In doing so, she may have participated in an illegal activity. Depending on how far back we want to go, the chain of illegality can be said to have begun with the Bangladeshi farmer who planted the vegetable six months earlier. Or it may be more sensible to start with the social ‘commodity chain’ of women who transport bundles of vegetables by foot and ferry in the early hours of every morning across the hundreds of legal and unmarked border-crossing points from Bangladesh into India. Crossing without papers or passports, they sometimes bribe border guards to let them pass. This is when the first ‘crime’ takes place.

International Law?

2006 marks the 60th anniversary of what, in its time, was declared ‘the biggest trial in recorded history’. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East – which tried Japanese military and civilian leaders for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ‘crimes against peace’ – surpassed the Nuremberg trial in duration (two and a half years), in the number of accused (28), in the number of presiding judges (11), and in the length of its judgment (over 1,200 pages). But compared to Nuremberg, which is widely seen as a watershed moment in international law, Tokyo remains obscure.

The Art of Seduction

The changing art of seduction: ritual courtship, performing prostitutes, erotic entertainment.


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