Last week in Rome the 5th Coffee Break Conference took place. During his introductory speech our Andrew Ollett asked why was such a project, with an explicit emphasis on a interdisciplinary approach, born exactly among scholars and students of South Asian studies.
His (tentative? ironic?) answer was that it was not a coincidence, since for South Asianists interdisciplinarity is not something they need to look for, it is already a given for them —since in the same department live scholars of history, feminist studies, cinema, philology… From the point of view of Islamic studies, Marco Lauri agreed that transdisciplinarity is not bread and butter in Islamic departments. Why so? Perhaps because Islam defined itself since its beginning against the other Abrahamic religions. This led Islamic believers (and consequently also Islamic scholars) to enforce a stricter definition of Islam, one that would not allow for anthropology, religious studies, etc.
Had you asked me, I would have said that most of us work on South Asia just because the Coffee Break Project was born out of the pleasure to work together of a group of friends. Hence the question: Are we here because we work on South Asia? Or is South Asia just the reason why we met? The question is open to readers —even if they work interdisciplinarly outside the Coffee Break Project.
Cross-posted with minor differences on my own blog.