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25 Years

Philology and the Origins of Indian Sex Life

Fri, 12/02/2016 - 12:00pm
Event Location: 
537 Heller Hall

Presented by Durba Mitra

Department of History, Fordham University

In this presentation, I will examine how philology for India, Indology – broadly conceived as the study of ancient Indian languages, texts, and cultures– shaped the modern study of sexuality. The philological study of sex linked the social status of women in modern India to “ancient” Indian sex life. I explore the peculiar lives and works of philologists and sociologists who wrote in English and Bengali and published widely from the late nineteenth century onward. With the rise of print culture, texts on ancient Indian sex life circulated widely across Europe and India and hugely influenced European philologists, German sexologists, and Indian social scientists. The Indological study of sex created new scientific histories where the study of Indic sexual pasts was linked to theories of progress and Aryan identity for modern India. While putatively focused on sex life in India, these philological studies engaged in extensive discussions of the status of women, Indian kinship norms, and social evolution, tying a wide strata of social life to the study of Indian sex. For these authors, the study of sex in the Indic past was critical to the present and future development of society.
My bio:
Durba Mitra is a historian of sexuality in modern South Asia. She is currently assistant professor of history and women's studies at Fordham University. Her research explores the role of sexuality in the making of the modern social sciences.