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Cambridge Interfaith Programme

A young man, wearing a hat, a satchel slung over his shoulder, walks down a busy street

Dr Alexandra S Ilieva, Teaching Associate of Buddhist Studies, reports from the launch of Dr Ankur Barua’s debut novel—held at the Faculty of Divinity on 8 November 2023: 

The intention was to read aloud from various chapters from Ankur’s book in an effort to spark discussion surrounding questions of religious identity, Orientalism, colonialism, and inter-religious dialogue, to name a few. Alexandra welcomed everyone, introduced Ankur’s book, and provided a broad thematic background of the novel.

Ankur offered a 10 minute presentation on the ideas and motivations behind his novel as well as some historical points worth mentioning. Members of the group proceeded to read out passages from different chapters, which were followed by engaged discussions. Alexandra facilitated these discussions and encouraged audience members to contribute with their own analyses, thoughts, ideas, or questions pertaining to the chapters. There were 9 readers and around 25 people in attendance.

The core themes discussed related to the ambiguity of national, religious, and cultural identities, which, on the ground, tend to be multi-dimensional, interdependent, and rarely straightforward. Through the case study of colonial India, we were introduced to various characters in the novel who, in one way or another, had to negotiate their allegiances and identities in the dynamically complex and diverse environment that characterised 20th-century India.

Certain themes that students of Hinduism and Buddhism would be familiar with were highlighted, such as metaphysical debates between self (ātman) and not-self (anātman), as well as concepts like emptiness and brahman and the role of spirituality in the human quest for knowledge. Lastly, given that this is a historical novel, the realities of British and Indian relations were highlighted, as well as the implications of such historical details for contemporary scholars to religion.

Finally, everyone was invited to the Faculty foyer for snacks and drinks.

This event was hosted by the Faculty of Divinity and supported by the Cambridge Interfaith Research Forum’s Small Grant scheme.

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