October Graduate Student Spotlight: Dean Accardi, Ph.D. student
Posted: September 30, 2008
JT: How did you get interested in Asian Cultures and Languages? What made you decide to pursue a Ph.D. in it?
DA: My interest in South Asia began with my prior and continuing interest in religion and philosophy, which brought me to Advaita Vedanta, Tantra and several Persian Sufi scholars. However, as an undergrad I quickly learned that to better understand these schools of thought, I must understand their context, historical and intertextual. This quickly snowballed into studying languages, literature, music, film and history. Then while working at Van Pelt library at the University of Pennsylvania, I stumbled across a book on Lal Ded, a female Kashmiri Shaiva saint who is revered by both Hindus and Muslims to this day. Wanting to further pursue research on early modern religious interaction in Kashmir and having always wanted to teach, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Asian Cultures and Languages.
JT: Where are you from and what made you decide to come to UT Austin?
DA: Originally from Chicago, I’ve moved around quite a bit since finishing my undergraduate degree, from Philadelphia to Jaipur to New York to Montclair, NJ. After finishing my MA in Religion at Columbia University, I highly considered coming to UT Austin solely due to the unparalleled faculty in the Asian Studies department. When I came and visited, though, I was deeply moved by the warm, congenial and intellectually engaging interactions I had with both graduate students and faculty. From that moment on, my decision to come to UT was sealed.
JT: Tell me about your research proposal for the Jacob Javits Fellowship that you were recently awarded.
DA: My research proposal for the Javits focused on Lal Ded, Nund Rishi (the founder of the Rishi Order of Sufis) and early modern Kashmir. Although Kashmir is most known for the social unrest and violence occurring there since 1947, and especially since the early 1990s, I have found that complex issues regarding religious, regional and political identities have a long history in Kashmir. By studying the thought, institutions and larger political and social environments surrounding some of the key religious figures during the Kashmiri Sultanate, I seek a new understanding of religious interactions and formations in early modern South Asia and how this might provide insight and alternatives to the current conflicts in Kashmir and elsewhere. In my proposal, I emphasized the deeper theoretical issues and wider implications my project has for the study of religion and South Asia. I also emphasized how my research will utilize sources in various languages which have hitherto been rarely used in the study of early modern religion in South Asia.
JT: If you could have dinner with any person living or dead who would it be and why?
DA: As long as language were not a barrier, I would choose Soren Kierkegaard due to his highly philosophical, yet deeply personal engagement with religion. Besides that, he seems to have a great, dry sense of humor. I only worry that he might prefer Danish food for that dinner.
JT: If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?
DA: I’d be a crow. They seem comfortable most anywhere and can live on whatever scraps are around, and they’re mysterious, daunting and almost invisible in the dark. Flight must be pretty sweet as well.