Kritika Kultura, the international refereed journal of language, literary, and cultural studies of the Department of English, Ateneo de Manila University—in partnership with the Department of Philosophy (AdMU)—will host a lecture by Dr. James Barnhart titled “Southeast Asia: An Empire of Water.” The lecture will be on Nov. 17, 2016, 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., at Escaler Hall, Ateneo de Manila University. The lecture is open to the public.
Barnhart’s abstract reads: “Most of what was once Southeast Asia is now underwater. Floodwaters from the ending of the last Ice Age ‘drowned’ vast areas that were once inhabited. The result was a dazzlingly land/seascape of sweeping coastline, 30,000 islands, and innumerable peninsulas, rivers, tributaries, canals, and floodplains. Sumet Jumsai suggests that this environment gave rise to an ‘amphibious civilization’ in which land and water were not seen as antithetical, but rather as coequal and interpenetrating elements. The rhythms of the seasons were determined by rainfall and flooding; commoners spent much of their lives walking ankle-deep in wet-rice paddies, or plying boats across the region’s countless waterways. People dwelt in house-boats, stilt houses, floating villages,‘sea gypsy’ moorages—and even worshipped at floating temples. Water was the stuff of daily life, but also the quintessence of divine mystery. It was used to anoint rulers, heal illness, administer oaths, inaugurate festivals, and conjure divinities. The anger of aquatic deities was vividly manifest in typhoons, floods and tsunamis.
“This study considers Southeast Asian aquatic themes in a wide variety of cultural domains: mythology, royal rites, urban planning, nautical design, religious ceremony, popular festivity, and folk medicine. Rather than a conventional historical study based on documents, it is a reinterpretation of the half-effaced traces of traditional culture, aiming at an impressionistic reconstruction of the region’s ‘lost’ prehistory. Amid dizzying ethno-linguistic diversity, national and religious differences, far-flung islands, and inaccessible landscapes, the aquatic theme provides a compelling predicate of cultural commonality for the region.”
James Barnhart was born in the United States and earned a PhD with Honors from the University of Chicago in 1999. He has served as a Fulbright Scholar in France and taught at Penn State University, as well as various other institutions in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and mainland China. In the course of his travels, he has visited over two dozen countries on six continents, and—in particular—journeyed through remote regions of Southeast Asia by boat, bus, foot, motorbike, airplane, and elephant. In 2006, he joined three colleagues to sail a traditionally-rigged schooner across the Atlantic Ocean, from Spain to South America. Dr. Barnhart’s research interests include French Revolutionary political culture, colonial justice in French Indochina, aquatic motifs in Southeast Asia, and submerged commonalities between China and Southeast Asia in the domains of religion, mythology, monumental architecture and folk medicine.
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