A Place for Utopia

Urban Designs from South Asia

Smriti Srinivas

  • Published: 2015. Paperback November 2016
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies; Anthropology
  • Bibliographic information: 224 pp., 61 bandw illus, 6 maps, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: N / A India
  • Series: Global South Asia
  • Contents

Exploring several utopian imaginaries and practices, A Place for Utopia ties different times together from the early twentieth century to the present, the biographical and the anthropological, the cultural and the conjunctional, South Asia, Europe, and North America. It charts the valency of "utopia" for understanding designs for alternative, occluded, vernacular, or emergent urbanisms in the last hundred years. Central to the designs for utopia in this book are the themes of gardens, children, spiritual topographies, death, and hope.

From the vitalist urban plans of the Scottish polymath Patrick Geddes in India to the Theosophical Society in Madras and the ways in which it provided a context for a novel South Indian garden design; from the visual, textual, and ritual designs of Californian Vedanta from the 1930s to the present; to the spatial transformations associated with post-1990s highways and rapid transit systems in Bangalore that are shaping an emerging "Indian New Age" of religious and somatic self-styling, Srinivas tells the story of contrapuntal histories, the contiguity of lives, and resonances between utopian worlds that are generative of designs for cultural alternatives and futures.
Smriti Srinivas is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of Landscapes of Urban Memory: The Sacred and the Civic in India's High-Tech City; In the Presence of Sai Baba: Body, City, and Memory in a Global Religious Movement; and The Mouths of People, The Voice of God: Buddhists and Muslims in the Frontier Commuinty of Ladakh.

"A Place for Utopia's effort to engage religiosity as a foundational force is significant. And, although there is a vast literature in humanities and social sciences on utopic forms and their realizations, past and present, this book is distinctive in its breadth and in its transcultural scope."
-Mary Hancock, author of Politics of Heritage from Madras to Chennai

"A Place for Utopia digs deep into an archive that details the intricate circuitries of ideas, projects, and institutions affiliated with critical strands of somatic practices and spiritual thought largely centered on and in India. This is a unique book in contemporary urban studies."
-AbdouMaliq Simone, author of Jakarta: Drawing the City Near

"Srinivas establishes historical and intellectual linkages among an astonishing array of ideas and practices that nevertheless shared a focus in common: the development and furtherance of spiritual capacities amidst the tumult of urban life. This book underscores the breadth and durability of an under-appreciated intellectual tradition within modern urban thought-one that might broadly be called organicism-by placing it within a transnational religious frame. A truly engaging read."
-William J. Glover, author of Making Lahore Modern: Constructing and Imagining a Colonial City

"A work of deep and prescient intellectual insight, Srinivas focuses on the question of how utopias are produced and experienced in practice and the imagination. She artfully weaves together a set of fascinating questions about the place of the future in the present, challenging us to think critically about how the body, urban environments, and religious experience are at once grounded in the reality of everyday life and how they transform this reality by anticipating the possibility of transcendence."
-Joseph Alter, Yale-NUS College


Introduction Placing Timelines
1. Biocentric Eutopias in South Asia
2. Ecotopias, Theosophy, and the South Indian City
3. Utopian Settlements and Californian Vedanta
4. Highways, Thresholds, and an Indian New Age
Conclusion Designing and Dwelling in Place