York-Noor Lecture Series examines the popularity of shrines in India

The annual York-Noor Lecture Series will present two talks by philosophy and religion Professor Anna Bigelow of North Carolina State University which look at how the sacred sites and shrines in India are peacefully visited by people of all religions despite challenges from zealots.

The first talk, titled "The Open Door: Dargahs and Multi-Religious Devotion in South Asia" is on Sunday, March 30, from 3:30 to 5:30pm at the Noor Cultural Centre, 123 Wynford Dr. (DVP & Eglinton), Toronto.

The second talk takes place on Monday, March 31, from noon to 2pm in the Senior Common Room, lower level, 010 Vanier College, Keele campus, where Bigelow will discuss "Ziyarat and Zealotry: Muslim Shrines and the Politics of Pilgrmage".

Left: Anna Bigelow

In "The Open Door: Dargahs and Multi-Religious Devotion in South Asia", Bigelow will explore the ways in which Muslims and non-Muslims share holy places peacefully in India.

"Shared sacred sites hide in plain sight all over India," says Bigelow. "Most often these places are the tombs of Muslim saints, Sufis who are often credited with spreading Islam and giving it its unique South Asian flavour."

Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and Muslims often visit the tombs to pray and to socialize. Bigelow will illustrate some of the many ways Muslims and non-Muslims share these holy places in India.

"More often than not, even amid the highly charged religious politics of India, the encounter between religions is not only peaceful, it is convivial," says Bigelow, whose research interests include the study of contested and cooperatively patronized multi-religious sacred sites in South Asia and the Middle East. The focus of her research is on the inter-religious dynamics that complicate or ameliorate these relations in plural communities around the globe.

In her second talk, "Ziyarat and Zealotry: Muslim Shrines and the Politics of Pilgrmage", Bigelow will examine the debate around ziyarat, the visitation of shrines, as a long established, yet long contested Muslim tradition.

"Debates about the orthodoxy of such pilgrimages go back to the Middle Ages and persist in the present day," she says. "In India, where the tomb shrines of Muslim saints are visited by non-Muslims as well as Muslims, the practice of visitation is challenged by zealots within all the major religions, including Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. The practice persists in spite of these critiques, indicating that the benefits of attendance at the shrines outweighs for many the approbation of co-religionists."

Bigelow will examine these shared sites and how they’ve been challenged, and in the process, illuminate the theologies and politics that drive religious conflicts in the country.

Since 2004, Bigelow has taught in the Department of Philosophy & Religion at North Carolina State University. She received her masters degree from Columbia University and her PhD in religious studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where her focus was on South Asian Islam.

Her dissertation Sharing Saints, Shrines, and Stories: Practicing Pluralism in North India won an award for best dissertation from the Department of Religious Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. She is currently working on a book, "Sharing the Sacred", under advance contract with Oxford University Press. The book is a study of a Muslim majority community in Indian Punjab and the shared sacred and civic spaces in that community.

In addition to teaching, Bigelow has spoken frequently on religious extremism, religion and conflict and the role of Islam in the world today.

For more information on the York-Noor Lecture Series, visit York’s Division of Humanities Web site.