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Religion & Performance in South Asia - 20 credits (RT1334)

Module Tutors: Dr James Hegarty; Dr Will Johnson

Summary of course content

This course offers an exciting opportunity to
gain an in depth knowledge of a range of performance traditions in ancient and
modern South Asia and to explore their roles in the transmission and adaptation of
religious knowledge. Students will analyse a diverse range of media from Sanskrit
Drama (in translation) to modern televisual and cinematic re-workings of South
Asian religious materials. The course will be taught mainly by seminar and workshop
in which a broad variety of media analysis techniques will be employed in order to
gain a detailed understanding of the structure and function of a range of South Asian
performance genres that will include drama, puppetry, television and film materials.

Credits: 20

Availability of module: currently unavailable

Prerequisites: None

Necessary for: N/A


  • To introduce you to the forms and functions of South Asian performative
    practice ancient and modern (e.g. drama, recitation, puppetry, television and
    film) as it pertains to Religious life.
  •  To introduce you to some of the accompanying indigenous technical and
    commentarial literature on South Asian performative practice and to show
    how this material can enrich your engagement with certain forms of South
    Asian performative practice.
  • To introduce you to the ways in which certain stories and characters are
    transformed and adapted in a variety of different media
  • To familiarise you with a variety of South Asian performative genres that have
    an explicitly religious dimension.
  • To encourage you to consider common themes (such as the ritual background
    and context, the negotiation of  identity and of key religious values and of the
    modelling of social and cosmic structures) in the study of performative
    practice as it pertains to South Asian religious life both ancient and modern.
  • To encourage you to consider the role of a variety of performative media in the
    transformation and adaptation of religious knowledge both within, and
    potentially beyond, South Asia.
  • To encourage you to consider ways in which performance studies can
    stimulate critical debate in relation to more general theoretical and
    methodological issues in Religious and Theological Studies (and in particular
    to give particular consideration to the ongoing debate over the definition of the
    term ‘religion’ itself).
  • To enable you to understand how, and in what ways, performative practice is
    an essential feature of human social life.

Learning outcomes

  • From studying on this module, you should be able to do the following:
    Knowledge and Understanding:
  •  identify and describe different forms of performative practice in historical and
    contemporary South Asia that pertain to religious life
  • identify and analyse a range of dramatic texts (in translation) as well
    ethnographic, televisual and cinematic data
  • synthesise technical and commentarial literatures with their performative
    subject matters
  • compare and contrast ancient and modern South Asian performative practices
    that pertain to religious life
  • give examples of  different performative materials and analyse their roles in
    the transmission and adaptation of  religious knowledge in South Asia
  • recognise some of the common functions of expressive practice in South Asia
    and, by implication, beyond.
    Intellectual Skills:
    reason evidence while being tolerant of other interpretations of that evidence
  • critically evaluate examples of South Asian performative practice as they
    pertain to religious life
  • sustain a logical argument and reach a conclusion that can be defended as
  • analyses and synthesis a broad range of multi-media information
  • compare and contrast theoretical explanations both indigenous and academic
    of South Asian performative practice as it pertains to religious life
    Discipline Specific (including practical) Skills:
  • empathetic representation of the views and practices of others
  • awareness of the multi-faceted complexity of religious belief and practice
  • demonstration of awareness of religious contributions to wider issues in
  • awareness of how personal and communal identities are shaped by religio-
    performative practice in South Asia
    Transferable Skills:
  • skills in analysis and organisation
  • the ability to find, manage and utilise information and data
  • the ability to manage deadlines
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • ability to evaluate claims
  • ability to articulate clearly, orally and in writing
  • skills in presenting a written argument
  • flexibility and ability to assess appropriate methodical tools for specific tasks
  • ability to engage empathetically with others
  • ability to integrate material quickly and effectively into a manageable output

Teaching methods

The course will be taught through lectures and seminars that focus on the close
analysis of a range of performative materials. Workshops will demonstrate to you
how one might fruitfully analyse a given example of a performance genre in relation
to its religious presuppositions and its engagement with wider issues in social and
religious life. You will be encouraged to participate in response tasks (including
experiments with actual performance practice) that will encourage a detailed and
nuanced engagement with the performative materials studied. There will be a
recurrent emphasis on the broad function of performative practice in the
transmission, adaptation and challenge of religious knowledge in South Asia


Formative – That which will contribute to the quality of your experience of the
course and which will enable you to score high marks.

Reflective Learning Journal – in which you record your readings, your
responses to film materials as well as your ideas, thoughts, critical insights,
production notes and workload planning activities and your evidence for the
development of the key skills for the course. This is a record not just of what
you have learnt but also how you learnt it.

Summative – That which will form the basis of your final mark.
The assessment will be portfolio based.

  • A 3000 word academic essay chosen from a prescribed list (75%)
  • A 1000 word analysis (25%) linked to a group presentation/'performance' of a
    particular text or section of text.

Please take note: The academic essay mark will be reduced by 20% if the student has
not taken part in the group presentation.

Suggested book purchases

As recommended in class.