Centre of South East Asian Studies, Food Studies Centre & Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

Professor Cosimo Zene

Key information

Professor in the Study of Religions and World Philosophies Academic Staff, SOAS South Asia Institute Food Studies Centre Member, SOAS Food Studies Centre Member Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies Member Research Associate
Centre of South East Asian Studies, Food Studies Centre & Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies
BA, MA, PhD (London)
Email address


Loading the player...

Dr Cosimo Zene - Self-Consciousness of the Dalits as ‘Subalterns’: Reflections on Gramsci in South Asia

Social Anthropology, Philosophy, Theology

Research interests

My research to date revolves around three main areas of enquiry:


1) Dalits and Religion:

Following an initial historical-anthropological research among a group of Dalits in Bengal and Bangladesh and in particular their conversion to Christianity (Zene 2002, The Rishi of Bangladesh, Routledge), I have continued researching upon the dialogical component of the religious experience  of these Dalits and the struggle to affirm their humanity by way of the religious ‘metaphor’ (Zene 2004, Travesia en el desierto; Zene 2007, Myth, identity and belonging).

Though not prominent at the early stages of this research, Gramsci’s thought has become increasingly relevant to highlight the human, social and religious experience of these Dalits, to the point of establishing a meaningful association with the thought of the Dalit leader, B. R. Ambedkar (Zene 2013, ed. The Political Philosophies of Antonio Gramsci and B. R. Ambedkar). This latest work is the result of intense collaboration between a group of Gramscian scholars and specialists in the fields of Ambedkarite and Dalit studies. This fruitful line of inquiry inspires future research into more specific aspects of the life of Dalits and Subalterns, such as their educational and religious experiences, also in conjunction with Latin American thinkers explicitly involved with the subalterns, such as Paulo Freire and José Carlos Mariátegui. A special issue journal is planned for 2017 on ‘Gramsci and Religion’.


2) Itineraries of the Gift:

The return to my native island of Sardinia was motivated by a preliminary research in 1995 on gift-giving, in the village of Nule, and subsequent extended field trips. Research on gift-giving (Zene 2007, ‘Dono e vendetta nella Sardegna Centrale’; Zene 2007, ‘S’Imbiatu: gift and community’), has expanded into other related areas of village life (Zene 2009, Dialoghi Nulesi), with more work resulting in an ethnographic film (Zene and Figus 2014, S’Impinnu - The Vow) and a monograph in the making (Zene 2016/17, Itineraries of the Gift).

In this case, also, there is a substantial ‘dialogical dimension’ underlining the research into gift-giving, both as an experiential phenomenon and as a theoretical effort. Developing the Maussian aspect of gift-giving as a “total social fact”, this research aims to unfold the Gift from a mere  anthropological domain to favour an interdisciplinary perspective (philosophy, theology, archaeology etc.). The trope of ‘dialogue’ can be also relevant in highlighting the interdisciplinary dimension of the Study of Religions, including the dialogue with colleagues working in the same department (Zene, ed. 2013, Religion and Dialogue. Special issue of Culture and Dialogue).


3) World Philosophies:

With the dimension of dialogue within my research having extended to include a wider scenario, the aim of this effort is directed towards envisaging a possible opening at the level of ‘world philosophies’ or ‘systems of thought’, as part of human experience and encounter, thus establishing a connection between different epistemologies, ethics and metaphysics, as well as a diverse way of interpreting history and reality.  With the launch in 2016-17 of the new BA World Philosophies, this is becoming a shared endeavour with both colleagues and students. Future research in this direction is planned to include the publication of a series on ‘World Philosophies’, in collaboration with specialists in this field, following a recent workshop (June 2015) towards the preparation of the Inaugural Volume of the series.


Contact Cosimo