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Stony Brook Is Going to Flow with Tamil in the Near Future

CAS Dean Nicole Sampson with Bala and Prabha Swaminathan

“The Future of Tamil Studies” was the topic of a two-day symposium recently held by the College of Arts and Sciences that culminated with the launch of a search for an endowed professor in Tamil. Featuring scholars and experts in practice, language, history and culture from around the world, the interdisciplinary symposium offered an in-depth discussion of how studying the ancient yet still relevant Tamil language and its art and literature offers scholars insights into humankind’s earliest worldview, providing context for our life today and our collective, global future. 

CAS Dean Nicole Sampson with Bala and Prabha Swaminathan
CAS Interim Dean Nicole Sampson with Bala and Prabha Swaminathan

“One of the things Tamil Studies can help us do as a scholarly community is to think about mutual exchanges and shared histories between different parts of the world, including the US, Southeast Asia, and various regional circuits in South Asia,” said Eric Beverley, associate professor in the Department of History. “For these reasons, Tamil Studies can be an important part of the humanities and social sciences curriculum at any major research university in the world, certainly including Stony Brook. This is an opportunity to build bridges of understanding that link the Stony Brook community into global networks.”  

Tamil drummers
Tamil drummers

Made possible through The Anandavalli and Dr. G. Swaminathan Endowed Research Professorship in Tamil Fund — generously established by Dr. Bala and Prabha Swaminathan in honor of Bala’s mother and father — the symposium opened with a local group of Tamil drummers, followed by a preview film screening of Sakthi Vibrations, an ethnomusicological documentary produced and directed by Zoe Sherinian, University of Oklahoma. The participatory ethnomusicological documentary, which will debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020, reveals and analyzes Sakthi’s outstanding model for Dalit women’s development that integrates folk arts performance with social analysis, micro-economic sustainability, self-esteem and community development.  

The symposium continued with a full day of presentations moderated by Eric Beverley, along with Lori Repetti, Department of Linguistics, and Margarethe Adams, Department of Music. Expert guest speakers offered perspectives on what the role of Tamil Studies as a field might be within an arts and sciences education in the university system. Presentations included: 

  • “Calling Other Shores: Tamil Studies in the Age of Decolonization” by Dr. Bhavani Raman, University of Toronto
  • “Tamil Matters: Acquiring and Maintaining Language and Culture” by Dr. Usha Lakshmanan, Southern Illinois University
  • “The Tamil Parai Folk Drum: Historical Sources and Contemporary Identity Politics” by Dr. Zoe Sherinian, University of Oklahoma
  • A panel discussion featuring speakers and guests including Dr. Kannabiran Ravishankar, University of Paris, and Dr. SN Sridhar, Director of the Mattoo Center for India Studies

“Our University and surrounding community have considerable interest in the Tamil language, arts, and culture, and this exciting interdisciplinary symposium offers an excellent opportunity for our students, faculty and community to learn about current and future Tamil research directions across disciplines,” said Nicole S. Sampson, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Bala Swaminathan and guest speakers br ul zs
Bala Swaminathan and guest speakers Bhavani Raman, Usha Lakshmanan and Zoe Sherinian

Creating the Anandavalli and Dr. G. Swaminathan Endowed Research Professorship in Tamil at SBU was a natural step in the Swaminthians’ quest to help sustain the Tamil language and culture; they purposefully established the professorship in the College of Arts and Sciences to leverage interdisciplinary, scholarly research collaborations. The professorship aligns with the forthcoming Globalization Studies and International Relations BA launching in Fall 2020, designed to educate leaders in globalization issues, international service, diplomacy and activism. The program will also prepare students to pursue graduate study in a wide variety of fields, from diplomacy and consulting to research journalism and social entrepreneurship. 

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