The South and Southeast Asian Association for the Study of Religion (SSEASR) Regional Conference, co-hosted by IAHR and in collaboration with Somaiya Centre of Buddhist Studies (Mumbai), convened from January 27-30 at the India International Centre (IIC), a large compound operating since 1962 and located by Lodi Gardens in New Delhi. The conference theme was titled: Cultural and Religious Mosaic of South and Southeast Asia: Conflict and Consensus through the Ages. The inauguration ceremony entailed a lamp-lighting ritual by Dr. Amarjiva Lochan, the SSEASR convenor, and guests of honour. A welcome address by Dr. Lochan followed. Eminent addresses were later delivered by guests such as the Former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs for the Govt. of India, H.E. Mehrotra; Executive Director for the Asian Scholarship Foundation, Dr. L. Salvador; Patron of SSEASR, Shanti Somaiya; and Senior Minister for Education Youth and Sports of Cambodia, H.E. Dr. Kol Pheng.
The opening of the Plenary session featured an instructive and inspiring audio-visual presentation on Cambodian Contemporary Arts by Prof. Norton (Providence College, USA). It was followed by: a) an educational discussion on the Zoroastrian community in India by Dr. Dhalla (World Zarathusti Cultural Foundation, Mumbai); b) an affable presentation with captivating photos of exquisite Mahāyāna Buddhist art found in the caves of Ajanta, by art historian and film-maker, Mr. Behl; and c) a stirring ethnographic documentary on the Tibetan refugee community in Nepal entitled A Journey Within, by visual archivist for India, Nepal, and the Himalayas, and recent ELINEPA member, Mr. Marco Barile (University of Calgary). 24 English-speaking medium Panels covered a wide range of specialist and general research topics mostly concerned with the culturally and religiously diverse regions of South and Southeast Asia. The Panels were arranged by themes such as: Epigraphy and Iconography; Languages and Literature; Art and Architecture; Religion, Human Rights & Law; Religion, Polity and Politics; Economics and Religion; Gender in Asian Religions; Buddhism and Hinduism in South and South East Asia, etc. The academic programme of SSEASR was international in scope admitting speakers from China, Taiwan, Mongolia, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Australia, Mexico, USA, Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Sweden, Denmark, England, Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Portugal, Macedonia, and Greece.
Noticeable was the Greek participation in this historical event that marked the foundation of SSEASR. The presentations of three Greek speakers included: Religious Identities in Late Modernity: Conflict or Reconciliation? for the RELIGIOUS CONFLICT Panel, by Dr. Niki Papageorgiou (Faculty of Theology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki); A Double-Helix Relation: Religion, Science and Politics for the special Session ON SCIENCE AND RELIGION, by Dr. Byron Kaldis’ (School of Humanities, The Hellenic Open University); The Violence of Ego: Buddhist Healing Paradigms in Traditional Tibetan Medicine for the MEDICINE AND HEALTH PRACTICE Panel, by D.Phil. Research Fellow Georgios Halkias (Oriental Institute, University of Oxford).
The SSEASR congress was well provided in terms of facilities, assistance, and pleasant buffet lunches with Indian and continental cuisine for all participants. Most important, it was an inspiring and successful forum for scholars to meet each other, exchange knowledge and perspectives, and present their latest research. The presenters received a Certificate for their contributions and were invited to vote for the implementation of the SSEASR constitution, effective, for the most part, as of January 30, 2005. The Asia Research Institute (www.ari.nus.edu.sg) of the National University of Singapore (NUS) has proposed to host the next SSEASR regional conference. SSEASR is expected to be voted a regional member of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) during the upcoming (March 24-30) 19th IAHR Congress in Tokyo, Japan.