UT’s search for a new Hindi professor barreled forward yesterday with a talk from David Lunn, the Simon Digby Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
Lunn, one of four candidates seeking the tenure track position, presented his research to a group of 30 graduate students, professors and members of the public Monday afternoon at the William C. Hogg building.
Akbar Hyder, associate professor of Asian studies, said the Department of Asian Studies began its search for a new head professor after three professors retired from the department.
“Hindi is (one of) the most widely spoken languages in the world, and we have been the most prominent institution for learning Hindi,” Hyder said. “We don’t have anyone at that tenure track level so this is a very important search.”
Lunn’s research focuses on Indian author Pandey Bechan Sharma, known as Ugra. Lunn said Ugra is well known for his commentary on homosexuality and humanism in 1920s India. His writing sparked controversy from critics who thought those topics did not belong in literature, Lunn said.
“‘Muslims are human beings, just as Hindus,’” Lunn read from an excerpt of Ugra’s work. “‘I am a devotee of humans, not of Hindus or Muslims. If you have no objection, then there is plenty of space in this house for you.’”
Although Ugra’s controversial work comes from the 1920s, Lunn said the author’s words transcend into India’s current political climate.
Lunn said Ugra viewed religion as irrelevant to personal identity and fought for trust, charity and compassion.
“I think these kinds of stories have a profound relevance today in India,” Lunn said. “The very eating of beef has become a flashpoint of debate. But these stories have a message that is quite good and should be heard again.”
Lunn said the opportunity to apply for the position was worth the trip from England.
“This is an opportunity to build on what’s already an incredibly strong legacy, particularly in Hindi and Urdu,” Lunn said. “There’s a legacy here to protect and conserve, and it’s important to have Hindi and Urdu side by side in the same department.”
A few students, including Justin Ben-Hain, a Hindi literature graduate student, attended Lunn’s presentation.
“The new professor might be my adviser,” Ben-Hain said. “(Lunn) might sit on my dissertation committee, so it’s important to see him speak.”