Faculty Colloquium: “A Hindu is white although he is black”

Dear Colleagues,

Please join us this Friday, November 6th at 3:00 in the Hatfield Room for our seventh Faculty Colloquium of this semester. Treats will be provided.

Alexander Rocklin, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Alexander Rocklin
Title: “A Hindu is white although he is black”: Hindu Alterity and the Performativity of Religion and Race between the US and the Caribbean


This talk uses the controversies surrounding the racially and religiously enigmatic Ismet Ali, a yogi working in Chicago and New York in the 1920s, as a way to get at the complexities of the interrelatedness of the performativity of religion and race. In examining several moments in which Ali’s “authenticity” as Indian is brought into doubt, it opens up larger questions regarding the global flows of colonial knowledge, racial tropes, and groups of people between India, the US, and the Caribbean. The practices of the yogi persona and its sartorial stylings, particularly the donning of a turban and beard, meant to signify “East Indianness” in the US, were one mode through which “Hindoo” stereotypes were repurposed as models for self-formation by both South Asian and African Americans in the early twentieth century. In passing as “Hindoo,” peoples of color could circumvent the US’s black/white racial binary and the violence of Jim Crow. This act of racial passing, though, was an act of religious passing as well. This talk explores the ways in which, in the early twentieth century US, East Indian “authenticity” only became legible via identificatory practices that engaged with and took on Orientalized stereotypes. However, the ways in which identities had to and could be performed changed with context, as individuals moved across national and colonial lines.

Please feel free to invite students to attend this talk.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Doreen Simonsen and Bobby Brewer-Wallin
Faculty Colloquium Coordinators