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Tony K. Stewart

Research Problematics

Though I write on a wide range of topics in premodern Bengali literature and religion, every inquiry intersects issues of discourse analysis. The mechanisms of religious practice and their correlative theological justifications are explored as part of a larger conceptual structures that are not limited to sectarian divisions, but dictated by the unique heteroglossia of the Bangla-speaking world. Where contemporary scholarship has generally assumed sectarian divisions, such as Hindu and Muslim, as obvious—with mutual exclusion being the operational norm—the premodern narratives of various Hindu and Muslim groups suggests something altogether different. Vaisnavas, Saivas, Saktas, Nathas on what is normally called the Hindu side often share with their Muslim Sufi, Shi’i, and Sunni counterparts common perspectives on cosmology, society, and the ritual processes to negotiate this world. While élites historically have favored some kind of differentiation as a function of discrete social identity, the overwhelming majority of religious practitioners—and their stories—point to a common perspective, with an easy and often fluid interaction that belies the neat separation implied by the discrete political identities today. Recognizing this invites a closer examination of the assumptions of the scholarship which has reified these divisions, so I am drawn to unpack our own interpretive strategies to look at the ways we conceptualize our problems (for example, the generally misused term of syncretism). Hermeneutic theory, literary critical techniques of narratology and reader response, as well as fundamental structuralist interpretations provide my most commonly deployed interpretive strategies.