Photo courtesy of David Geary

Interdisciplinary Histories Research Cluster (UBC-V) & Department of Community, Culture and Global Studies (UBC-O)

9:00-11:15 – SESSION I: Youth, Religion, and Belonging in South Asia


Chair: David Geary


Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg, University of Copenhagen * Buddhist Youth in India: Transforming Buddhism to align with 21st century lives

Hanna Kim, Adelphi University * Success, Grit, and the Guru: Swaminarayan Pedagogies for Self-Shaping and Confidence-Building

Kabita Chakraborty, York University * “If you are a behenji-type you aren’t belonging to a modern India”: Muslim girls discuss their complicated relationship with premarital romance in the bustees of Kolkata

Hashim Ali, University of Illinois at Chicago * Students Strike Back: Youth Life and the Promise of Post-Colonial Pakistan

Mallory Henningar, Syracuse University * Kalyan Mitrata: Buddhist Friendship as a source of Belonging at Nagaloka Centre in Maharashtra, India 

11:30-12:30 - Keynote: Shalini Shankar, Northwestern University

"Legacies of Caste and Generation Z:

South Asian Americans, Zaila Avant-Garde, and Equality at the National Spelling Bee"

Since 2009, an Indian American speller has won every Scripps National Spelling Bee, until 2021. This year, the Bee crowned its first Black American champion, Louisianan Zaila Avant-Garde. This is remarkable because this hallowed educational contest has largely been inaccessible to Black children due to generations of segregation, inequality, and racism. How did Avant-Garde break through, and how does her win connect to South Asian Americans? In this talk I juxtapose the significance of caste as a system of inequality in the United States with the way it functions in the South Asian diaspora. Drawing on data collected at the National Spelling Bee, I explore how South Asian American elite spellers are largely from upper caste backgrounds, which has aided in their access to education and upward social mobility in the US. Through their dominance in this contest, these immigrants have developed extensive training and coaching networks that are impacting Gen Z youth beyond their ethnic communities, potentially presenting opportunities where none previously existed. Despite these successes, South Asian American participants and winners have been targets of racist and xenophobic sentiment for dominating an “American” contest, a dynamic that further complicates their perceived dominance in this educational contest and creates underexplored parallels with Black Americans.

Shalini Shankar is the Martin J. and Patricia Koldyke Outstanding Teaching Professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. She is a cultural and linguistic anthropologist whose ethnographic research focuses on race, ethnicity, language use, youth, and media in Asian diasporas. She is the author of several books, including Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal about Generation Z’s New Path to Success (Basic Books, 2019); Advertising Diversity: Ad Agencies and the Creation of Asian American Consumers (Duke UP, 2015); and Desi land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley (Duke UP, 2008). Shankar is a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow, the recipient of grants from the National Science Foundation, and has appeared in numerous media, including NPR, BBC, MSNBC, CNN, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and the LA Times.

Chair: Shannon Ward 

1:00-2:45 – SESSION II: Youth, Aspiration, and Mobilities in South Asia and Beyond

Chair: David Geary

UBCO Graduate and Post-Doctoral Fellow panel

Rebecca Campbell: Moving beyond stereotypes through travel: young Indians travelling domestically

Matt Husain: Islam-neoliberalism and suicides in young Bangladeshi-Canadian men in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)

Rutika Gandhi: Selfies, Religion and Digital Worlds among Indian youth

Manish Kumar: Reclaiming the Shakya Lineage: Buddhist Youth and Memory at Sankisa in Uttar Pradesh

Mir Rifat Us Saleheen: Recent trends and changing landscape of student politics in Bangladesh


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