2014-2015 Colloquium Series

The Tourism Studies Working Group is pleased to announce
a colloquium featuring Swetha Vijayakumar and Shahrzad Shirvani

Friday, November 21, 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Gifford Room, 221 Kroeber Hall
University of California, Berkeley


Convergence of Religion and Politics at Swaminarayan Akshardham

Swetha Vijayakumar
(Ph.D. Student, Architecture, UC Berkeley)

The Swaminarayan Akshardham is India's first temple complex with animatronic shows, IMAX theaters, and entertainment rides. It is the crown jewel of Bochasanwasi Shri Aksharpurshottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a schism of Swaminarayan Hinduism. By building the Akshardham temple complex in India's capital Delhi - a city with a formidable history of Islamic and Colonial architecture - instead of its neighboring pilgrimage centers like Haridwar or Rishikesh, BAPS makes it evident that Akshardham is being presented in a nationalistic framework rather than a simply religious one. BAPS's political patronage has been evident ever since the construction of Akshardham began. In April 2000, by amending the master plan of Delhi, the government led by a Hindu nationalist party allotted a piece of land on the floodplains of river Yamuna to BAPS. Built on this no-construction-land, amidst strong protests from environmentalists and civil agencies, today the Akshardham temple stands majestically. Through the construction of modern temples like Akshardham, BAPS is strategically using the built realm not only as a medium for religious instruction and worship, but also for propagation of political ideologies. As a self-appointed custodian of Hindu culture and tradition, the architecture of Akshardham is intended to signal a mega-revival of ancient Indian traditions. There is a successful convergence of religious revivalism and nationalist ideology. It is uniquely placed as a religious complex inside a nationalist framework. At Akshardham, Indian history is cleansed of all that is non-Hindu -Islamic or British. Even though it projects itself as a 'temple of India', essentially it only memorializes a 'golden age of Hinduism'. BAPS creates a unique kind of a 'spectacle', by surrounding a traditionally carved shrine with the most novel of the 21st century technologies. This paper explores the tenuous but unmistakable role of politics and nationalism in the making of modern public temples. It contends that understanding the emerging phenomenon of the religious theme parks is imperative as it offers pivotal insights into the "glocalization" of leisure and tradition that reshapes South Asian religious culture and its built experiments.

Speaker Bio:
Swetha Vijayakumar is a graduate student in the Department of Architecture at University of California, Berkeley. She is pursuing her doctoral degree in History of Architecture and Urbanism. Her research interests include cultural ecologies of Hindu pilgrimage sites in South Asia, evolution of contemporary Indian temple architecture, and the play of traditional-modern dialectic in the built environment. She is currently studying religious theme parks, touristic pilgrimages, and experience economy of sacred sites in 21st century India. She has a Masters in Architecture from UC Berkeley.


Inconsistent Histories of Two Mausoleums 

Shahrzad Shirvani
(Ph.D. Student, Environmental Design and Urbanism, UC Berkeley)

This research emphasizes the politics of space making in order to link manufactured tradition with authority and power. Authoritarian regimes deploy tradition to reconstruct histories of their "own" place and time. This approach considers tradition as a regime of belonging, programmed through a process of inventions and reinventions to provoke a 'sacred foundation' in a 'selected past'. This paper employs the idea of "bondedness" used by Hannah Arendt as the frame of reference, where the word 'bond' has double meanings: connection and constraint. The term creates a paradoxical mode of both 'rejection' and 'acceptance', and hence, it is considers as an extremely important factor in the construction of legitimacy. The paper compares the architectural representation of two significant mausoleums in the context of Iran, before and after the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. The Revolution is the focal point when secular ideologies of the monarchic Pahlavi regime shifted into religious ideologies of the Islamic Republic. The two case studies are burial spaces of two important political figures. The first one is the mausoleum of Reza Shah (completed in 1950) and the second one is the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini (completed in 1989).Revolutionary Islamists destroyed the former monument during early days of the Revolution to eliminate monarchic identity of 'Iranian history'. On the contrary, the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini writes a history of its own. This paper explores the ways in which both regimes used architecture as a 'bond of authority' to consolidate construction of their desired nation-states. This comparative analysis focuses on architectural representation of the two mausoleums considering the religious foundations upon which each case was erected and hence produced a significant history of its own. Eventually, the research contributes to the political practices of nation building under the Islamic Republic.

Speaker Bio:
Shahrzad Shirvani was born in Tehran-Iran. She received her B.A. in Architectural Engineering in Tehran's Azad University in 2005. She obtained a Master of Architecture degree from the same university in 2008. In 2013, she received a Masters of Science degree from the Department of Architecture at University of California, in Berkeley where she is currently a second year PhD student in the program of Environmental Design and Urbanism in Developing Countries. She is interested in the ways in which authoritarian regimes use built environment as a sociopolitical tool in order to construct national identities in order to rewrite a history of their own temporality. Therefore, her focus is on memory, power, nation building processes and sociocultural notions of everyday life. Her current emphasis is on the contemporary architecture of Iran under the Islamic Republic. She explores how the state has employed the legacy of "Iranian-Islamic Architecture" to reconstruct a new national identity using the built environment. Her area of interest is on invented traditions and cultural representations in urban scale.

web design fgi ©2010 Tourism Studies Working Group is an advanced tourism studies and research forum
U.C. Berkeley | v.1.0 | updated: 27 Jan 2010