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Cambridge Interfaith Programme

A glinting border & henna-like design surrounds the event title

Earlier this month, Hina Khalid and Ankur Barua co-hosted a Mehfil—a “gathering to entertain or praise”, to extend students’ exposure to South Asian soundscapes. The event was supported by the Cambridge Interfaith Research Forum’s small grant scheme.

They report back:

On a sunny Friday afternoon, the Lightfoot Room attracted a large “participant audience” to a CIP-sponsored event on the sonic spaces of South Asia. Hina offered an outline sketch of the theological pathways along which the concepts rooted in one worldview (specifically Hindu or Muslim) may migrate across its domestic borderlines to the seeming wilderness of another worldview.

Reflecting this polarity of density and porosity, Ankur indicated that in these spaces, songs have a fixed point of departure but not necessarily a fixed point of arrival – for the arrival is partly dependent on the type and quality of the response of the audience. Music is implicit theology, which is why for many centuries in South Asia, the materiality of music has been an accessible avenue to the technicalities of theology. Thus, beginning as well as ending with two songs whose idioms recur through Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian universes, he sang six other songs which more clearly evoke distinctively Hindu or Islamic visions. These resonances were picked up by the participants who made luminous observations about the musical form and the thematic content of the songs.

The event aimed to highlight for students the living textures of South Asian religiosity, wherein matters of theological and philosophical import are not merely the subject of intellectual disputations but of creative envisioning and enacting. By drawing out the shared resonances across (principally) “Hindu” and “Muslim” songs, participants were encouraged to reflect on how devotional idioms often defy neat classification, and in this way, possess a colourful dynamism that transcends the specificities of their compositional context. We hope to make this a recurring (possibly termly) event, to foster a collaborative forum for both undergraduates and postgraduates working on or with the lyrical traditions of South Asia.

Our singer for the evening, Ankur Barua, has penned this lyric in honour of CIP’s contribution to the mehfil:

Music is the food of love, and love is the subtle soul of all chitchat,
Of such carefree conviviality CIP is the custodian, and I will drink to that!

About the Interfaith Research Forum

The Cambridge Interfaith Research Forum was established in 2022, to encourage greater interaction with religion-linked research in and beyond the Faculty of Divinity. Membership is open to researchers across the University of Cambridge, and there are categories for alumni as well as current staff and students. Learn more about the Research Forum.

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