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TOUGH TALK argues the questions that are all too real in South Asia but refuse to be discussed, and asks the answers.



Date/Time: Wednesday, 5 June 2024 | 3pm UK time

How do AI advances contribute to spiritual explorations and impact individuals’ relationships with God? Can and should AI systems affect divine experiences? Does AI limit or expand notions of the sacred and can it become a substitute for established ideals of human spirituality?

Speakers: Dr Signe M. Cohen is Associate Professor of South Asian Religions at the University of Missouri, and has published on South Asian religious texts, and on robots, mechanical beings & automatons in classical India; Dr Muhammad U. Faruque is Inayat & Ishrat Malik Assistant Professor and a Taft Center Fellow at the University of Cincinnati, and is currently researching on Artifical Intelligence & the ethical challenges of Information Technology; Dr Jenna Supp-Montgomerie (@SuppMontgomerie) is Associate Profesor in Religious Studies and Communication Studies at the University of Iowa, and has published on the entangled relationships of religion & infrastructure amidst technological change in everyday life.   

Chair: Alnoor Bhimani (@AlnoorBhimani) is Director, LSE South Asia Centre, and Professor of Management Accounting at LSE.

This online event is free to attend but registration is required to receive the livestream link. Please e-mail to register. 




Date/Time: Tuesday, 27 September 2022 | 3.30pm UK time

Should objects/artefacts in museums across the world, acquired via colonisation of other countries, be returned to the countries of origin?

Speakers: Dan Hicks (@profdanhicks) is Professor of Contemporary Archaeology (University of Oxford), Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford), and FellowSt Cross CollegeUniversity of Oxford. He is the author of The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution (2020); Dr Dolly Kikon (@DollyKikon) is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology & Development StudiesUniversity of Melbourne, and is part of the Return, Restore and Decolonise (RRaD) team to initiate the repatriation of Naga ancestral human remains from the Pitt Rivers Museum to the Naga ancestral homeland, discussed in 'The Unfinished Business of Colonialism: Naga Ancestral Remains and the Healing of the Land' (2022); Adewala Maja-Pearce (@majapearce) is a writer, journalist and literary critic. His review essay 'Strewn with Loot' (2021) engages with the complex question of cultural restitution; Kavita Singh is Professor in the School of Arts & AestheticsJawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and co-editor of No Touching, No Spitting, No Praying: The Museum in South Asia (2015), amongst others.

Chair: Dr Nilanjan Sarkar (@SAsiaLSE) is Deputy Director, LSE South Asia Centre.

Please click here to watch a recording of the event. 




Date/Time: Thursday, 20 January 2022/3.30pm GMT

Across the world, our past has left disturbing, inhumane and cruel histories. Several nations have called for past perpetrators to acknowledge their atrocities and apologise. This 'Tough Talk' asks: should we apologise/ask for apologies for the past, or should we let the past be, and work towards a better future? Do apologies matter? Are they symbolic or are they genuinely meaningful? 

Speakers: Tom Bentley (@TomJBentley) is Lecturer in the Department of Politics & International Relations, University of Aberdeen, and is the author of Empires of Remorse: Narratives, Postcolonialism and Apologies for Colonial Atrocity (2016); Vanessa Holburn (@vanessaSH) is a journalist, and author of The Amritsar Massacre: The British Empire's Worst Atrocity (2019); Claus Leggewie is Ludwig Börne Professor at Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, and has written on cultures of remembrance, conflicts & historical memoryRasul Bakhsh Rais (@RasulRais) is Professor of Political Science at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), and author most recently of Islam, Ethnicity & Power Politics: Constructing Pakistan's National Identity (2017); Ali Raza (@tareekhdaan) specialises in the history of modern South Asia, is Associate Professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), and is currently developing a digital archive of the 1971 war between Pakistan & Bangladesh; Ali Riaz is Distinguished Professor in Politics & Government at Illinois State University, and has spoken publicly about an apology from Pakistan to Bangladesh for 1971 (Bangladesh's War of Liberation); Shalini Sharma is Senior Lecturer in South Asian History at Keele University, and has been closely involved with the demand from the British government to apologise for 1919 (Jallianwala Bagh) in India. 

Chair: Nilanjan Sarkar (@SAsiaLSE) is Deputy Director, LSE South Asia Centre

Please click here to watch a recording of the event.




Date/Time: Thursday, 7 October 2021/4.30pm BST

This 'Tough Talk' asks: is 'Decolonisation' a 'method'/'school' of historical interpretation, or is it what trained scholars have been doing all along -- examining, analysing & interpreting archives for newer and nuanced narratives that correct current wisdom?

SpeakersCaroline Elkins is Professor of History, Harvard University (@Harvard_History), and author of the acclaimed Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya (2005); Priya Satia (@PriyaSatia) is Raymond A Spruance Professor of International History, Stanford University, and author of Time's Monster: How History Makes History (2020); Kim Wagner (@KimAtiWagner) is Professor of Global and Imperial History, Queen Mary University of London, and author of Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre (2020).  

DiscussantDavid Arnold is Emeritus Professor of History, University of Warwick (@WarwickHistory), and author of Burning the Dead: Hindu Nationhood & the Global Construction of an Indian Tradition (2021).  

ChairNilanjan Sarkar is Deputy Director, LSE South Asia Centre (@SAsiaLSE).

Please click here to watch a recording of the event.




Date/Time: Wednesday, 20 January 2021/3.30pm GMT

As new types of political mobilisation and electoral success enable different forms of government across the world, TOUGH TALK asks: Does Liberalism allow Populism? Here, ‘allow’ is used in the strict sense of ‘giving permission for (someone or groups) to do something, or to not prevent something from happening’; and ‘Populism’ is used as a shorthand for various governments — in Brazil, Hungary, India, Philippines, Russia, Turkey, the US under Trump, to name a few —  that have been referred to as ‘populist’, ‘majoritarian’, ‘strongman’, ‘identitarian’, ‘ultra-nationalist’, and so on.

Two recent books, both about India, set this tension in relief: A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilisational State argues for a ‘civilisational republic’, with a chapter titled ‘Saving Secularism from the Secularists’; and The Battle of Belonging: On Nationalism, Patriotism, and What it Means to be Indian has sections on ‘The Idea of India’ and the ‘The Hindutva Idea of India’, ending with arguing for ‘Reclaiming India’s Soul’.

This discussion will examine the ideas implicit in these two books, and debate some crucial points relevant to India and the world: inasmuch as the true ethos of ‘Liberalism’ and its political culture is to support all views, has it inadvertently allowed ‘illiberal’ and ‘non-liberal’ groups to prosper in liberal political space, only for them to stifle that space once they come to power? Does Liberalism need to reconsider the space for dissent, the place of the individual, and the urges of majoritarian ultra-nationalism in a globalised world? And what about the charges brought against Liberalism — of excessive political correctness, minority exceptionalism, majoritarian discrimination, Cancel Culture, and most recently, the tyranny of merit, amongst others? Does Liberalism need to reclaim, or to redefine, itself? Or is the world living through a civilisational turn, and Liberalism as we have known it has had its time?

PanelistsMichael Freeden (formerly Director, Centre for Political Ideologies & Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford); Harsh Gupta 'Madhusudan' (@harshmadhusudan) and Rajeev Mantri (@RMantri) are co-authors of A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilisational StateAakash Rathore (@aakashrathore) is Permanent Visiting Professor, LUISS University, Rome; Helena Rosenblatt (@HelenaRosenblat) is Professor, Graduate Center, City University of New York; and Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor), is author of The Battle of Belonging: On Nationalism, Patriotism, and What it Means to be Indian (2020; reprinted in the UK as The Struggle for India's Soul: Nationalism & the Fate of Democracy (2021)).

ChairNilanjan Sarkar is Deputy Director, LSE South Asia Centre.

Please click here to watch a recording of the event. 



Date/Time: Wednesday, 30 September/3:00pm BST

SpeakersGurpreet Kaur (Jasmine Morris) (@turbandexplorer) is a writer and young activist who advocates for multicultural inclusion within the Sikh community; Hsu Yadanar Htun is one of the organisers of the 'Don’t Call Me K Word' campaign, and a feminist advocate in Rangoon, Myanmar; Nirosha Kulasekara is a Student Counselor at the University of Colombo, and has worked closely with Sri Lankan Africans for several years, including being a translator for the community at academic events; Malini Ranganathan (@maliniranga) is Associate Professor, School of International Service, and is Interim Faculty Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center, American University, Washington D.C.; Ngurang Reena (@NgurangReena) is a first-generation researcher, writer and activist from Arunachal Pradesh in North-East India, and is currently a PhD scholar at the Centre for European Studies, JNU, New Delhi; Hurmat Ali Shah (@iconcoclastary) is a Pashtun from Pakistan, until recently Post-doctoral Research Fellow at Ryerson University, Toronto. His profile on LinkedIn says that Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan guided him to have a sense of identity, and Walter Benjamin mentors him from his grave; Beheroze F Shroff (@beheroze) is Lecturer in Asian American Studies, University of California, Irvine, and her research focuses on the Sidi community in India.

Chair: Nilanjan Sarkar is Deputy Director, LSE South Asia Centre.

Please click here to watch a recording of the event.


 Banner image: 'Fists in the Air', PikPng.