Sascha Ebeling

Sascha Ebeling Associate Professor
Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the College
Resource Faculty in the Department of Comparative Literature
Affiliated Faculty in the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality
Senior Adviser in the Humanities
Chair, Readings in World Literature Collegiate Core Sequence

Office: Foster Hall 203
Phone: (773) 834-2788
Fax: (773) 834-3254

Sascha Ebeling was trained in South Asian Studies, Romance Languages and Literatures, and General Linguistics at the University of Cologne, Germany, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. Before joining the University of Chicago in 2005, he taught Tamil literature and South Asian Studies at the University of Cologne and also worked for the Göttingen Academy of Sciences as a Tamil manuscriptologist in the project “Union Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts in German Collections” (Katalogisierung der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland, KOHD).

His book Colonizing the Realm of Words: The Transformation of Tamil Literature in Nineteenth-Century South India was published by SUNY Press in 2010. Together with Lakshmi Holmström he has also edited and translated two volumes of poems, A Second Sunrise, a collection by the poet R. Cheran and Lost Evenings, Lost Lives, a collection of poems about Sri Lanka’s civil war. Currently, he is working on three book-length projects: a history of the present moment in contemporary Tamil writing, mapping the genealogies of contemporary Tamil literary production from a global perspective; a book that examines Tamil writing about the ethnic conflict and civil war in Sri Lanka; and a monograph with the working title The Imperial Rise of the Novel, which will address the connections between Western imperialism, Asian modernities and the global history of the novel, discussing a wide range of texts from Europe and Asia (India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia).

Professor Ebeling is also the recipient of the 2007 Forschungspreis (Research Award) of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society) for his work on nineteenth-century Tamil literature, and of the 2008 Whiting Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Core teaching at the University of Chicago. In July 2010 he was honored with the award for Outstanding Achievement in Tamil Studies by the Tamil Literary Garden, Toronto. A part of his acceptance speech (in Tamil) was published by the Canadian Tamil newspaper தாய்வீடுTaay veedu. For a pdf of the article, click here. His volume A Second Sunrise was listed among “The 100 new books to watch out for in 2012” by The Economic Times of India, and his anthology Lost Evenings, Lost Lives won the PEN Translates Award of the English PEN.


  • Ph.D. (summa cum laude) University of Cologne, Germany
  • M.A. School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London

Field Specialties

Tamil language and literature (pre-modern and modern); South Indian cultural history;
Comparative Literature.

Research Interests

Tamil language and literature of all periods, in particular nineteenth-century literary culture, Tamil epigraphy, Tamil cinema, South Indian cultures, comparative literary studies.

Regional interests: South India, esp. Tamilnadu and Kerala, Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore).

Current Projects

Sascha Ebeling With Malaysian Tamil hip hop artists Dr. Burn, Yogi B. and Emcee Jesz

“Nineteenth-Century Tamil Literature” A monograph-length survey of nineteenth-century Tamil literature has been published in 2010 as Colonizing the Realm of Words: The Transformation of Tamil Literature in Nineteenth-Century South India. A companion to nineteenth-century Tamil literary culture with encyclopedic entries on texts and authors is currently under preparation.

“Contemporary Tamil Literature in the World” This project aims at a monograph-length history of contemporary Tamil writing by mapping the genealogies of contemporary Tamil literary production from a global perspective. So far, scholars and general readers alike have tended to dismiss the achievements of contemporary Tamil writers in the light of the great Tamil classics of the pre-modern period. Addressing this imbalance, this volume celebrates the richness of contemporary Tamil writing, a truly global literature written today in many parts of the world, such as India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, USA and Europe, for readers all around the globe. This book explores the global circulation of Tamil literature today. It examines the institutions through which a global Tamil is made possible. It also addresses three of the most important themes of contemporary Tamil literature: caste, or the question of Dalits; ethnicity, or the war and ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka; and gender, or the question of women’s role in a changing society. Each theme is traced backwards in time, asking about historical precedents or how earlier Tamil writers have paved the way for the current generation. Covering a wide range of texts – from the much-praised modern classics of high literature to much-read but underestimated pulp fiction; poetry, prose, and drama; Hindu, Muslim and Christian writing; women’s writing and Dalit literature – this book develops a history of the present moment in Tamil literary culture.

“The History of Tamil Poetics” This collaborative project with an international group of scholars consists of a series of workshops (co-organized with Eva Wilden, EFEO, India, and Thomas Lehmann, Heidelberg University) for the study of Tamil poetological traditions. Project members are currently compiling critical editions and annotated translations of the Tamil primary sources. The first publication is currently under preparation: Jean-Luc Chevillard, Sascha Ebeling, Thomas Lehmann, Takanobu Takahashi and Eva Wilden. “A Preliminary Annotated Translation of Kalaviyalalias Irayaiyanar Akapporul”, forthcoming. [A new translation of an important text on Tamil poetics prepared jointly by the research group]

Publications Include:


Colonizing the Realm of Words

Articles and Contributions to Edited Volumes

  • (with M. Trento) “From Missionary to Pulavar: Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi SJ (1689-1747), the ‘Great Heroic Sage’”, forthcoming in a special issue of Puruṣartha (Paris) on India and Italy.
  • “The Scandal of the Devadasi in Nineteenth-Century Tamil Theater: Caitapuram Kacivicuvanata Mutaliyar’s drama Tampacari vilacam”, forthcoming in a volume edited by Davesh Soneji and Tiziana Leucci, Oxford University Press.
  • [in Tamil] “நினைவுகளும் இலக்கியமும்” (Memories and Literature, Seven Years After Mulivaikkal), Kalachuvadu 28.5 (May 2016): 27–29.
  • “Introduction”, in: Cheran. In a Time of Burning. Todmorden: Arc Publications, 2013. pp. 13–17.
  • “Afterword” in: Holmström, Lakshmi and Sascha Ebeling (eds.). A Second Sunrise. Poems by Cheran. Edited and translated from the Tamil. New Delhi: Navayana, 2012.
  • “Tamil Poetry and Poetics”, in: Greene, Roland (ed.). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. 4th edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. pp. 1409–1411.
  • “Love, War, and the Sea Again: On the Poetry of Cheran”, in: Schalk, Peter (ed.). 2011. The Tamils from the Past to the Present. Celebratory volume in honour of Professor Alvapillai Veluppillai at the occasion of his 75th birthday. Uppsala: Uppsala University, and Colombo: Kumaran Book House, 2011, pp. 57–104.
  • “Another Tomorrow for Nantanar: The Continuation and Re-Invention of a Medieval South-Indian Untouchable Saint”, in: Schalk, Peter et al. (Hg.). 2010. Geschichte und Geschichten. Historiographie und Hagiographie in der asiatischen Religionsgeschichte. (= Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Historia religionum 30). Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet. pp. 433–516.
  • “The College of Fort St. George and the Transformation of Tamil Philology During the Nineteenth Century”, in: Trautmann, Thomas R. (ed.). 2009. The Madras School of Orientalism. Producing Knowledge in Colonial South India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 233–260.
  • “Tamil or ‘Incomprehensible Scribble’? The Tamil Philological Commentary (urai) in the Nineteenth Century”, in: Wilden, Eva (ed.). 2009. Between Preservation and Recreation. Tamil traditions of commentary. Proceedings of a workshop in honour of T.V. Gopal Iyer. Pondichéry: Institut Français de Pondichéry; École Française d’Extrême-Orient. pp. 281–312.
  • “Cpap’”, in: Kindlers Literatur Lexikon, third edition, ed. by Heinz Ludwig Arnold, Stuttgart/Weimar: Verlag J. B. Metzler, 2009. vol. 4. pp. 249–251. [Survey article in literary encyclopedia on a genre of Khmer moral treatises (Cambodia), in German; draws on the article by Solange Bernard-Thierry in the 2nd edition.]
  • Afterword”, in: Vedanayagam Pillai, S. 2006. The History of Prathapa Mudaliar. A Tamil Novel. translated by Meenakshi Tyagarajan. New Delhi: Katha. pp. 239–268.
  • “Siva, Visnu, Buddha: Religion und Staat im Kambodscha der Angkor-Periode (9.–14. Jh.)”, in: Schalk, Peter et al. (Hg.). 2005. Im Dickicht der Gebote. (= Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Historia religionum 26). Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet. pp. 435–461. [Siva, Visnu, Buddha: Some Observations on Religion and State in Cambodia during the Angkor Period (9th – 14th c.), in German]
  • “The Digital Archive of South Indian Inscriptions (DASI) — A First Report,” in: Jean-Luc Chevillard und Eva Wilden (eds.). 2004. South-Indian Horizons. Felicitation Volume for François Gros on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Pondicherry: Institut Français and EFEO. pp. 495–503.
  • With Thomas Lehmann and Ulrike Niklas (eds.). 2004. Tamil Studies: Current Trends and Perspectives. Proceedings of the Panel 36 at the 17th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies, Heidelberg, September 9th to 14th, 2002. In: NewKOLAM 9+10, January 2004.


  • Contributions to Ein kleines Buch voll Liebe. Liebes-Erklärungen aus aller Welt. Stuttgart: Pons Verlag, 2009. ISBN: 978-3-12-010014-0: four love poems translated into German from Czech, Old Javanese, Raeto-Romance (Romansh), and Tamil.

Recent Talks and Presentations (Selection)

  • 2015 National University of Singapore, Conference “Centering Mobility in Tamil Worlds: Research Agendas for the Twenty-First Century”: “Diasporic Tamil Literature or Global Tamil Literature?”
  • 2014 University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: “Kumaran Ashan’s “The Fallen Flower” (1907) and Malayalam Modernism in a global context”
  • 2014 invited lecture, Department of Comparative Literature, University of Chicago: “The Emergence of the Novel in India as a Meta-Poetic Turn”
  • 2014 Invited Speaker at Book Launch, Toronto: In Our Translated World. Translations of Contemporary Global Tamil Poetry (ed. Chelva Kanaganayakam, Toronto: TSAR Publications).
  • 2014 Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain: “Meister Eckhart and Manikkavasagar: Comparative Perspectives on ‘Mysticism’”
  • 2013 International Conference at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris: “The Scandal of the Devadasi in Nineteenth-Century Tamil Theater”
  • 2013 University of California, Berkeley, Tamil Chair Conference: “Literature and the grievable life in post-war Sri Lanka”
  • 2013 University of Chicago, Humanities Day lecture: “What is World Literature?”.
  • 2012 invited lecture, Department of Comparative Literature, University of Chicago: “The Novel and Empire in Europe and Asia, c.1850 to 1930”
  • 2012 University of Toronto, Tamil Studies Conference: “Sri Lanka’s past and present in the poetry of R. Cheran”
  • 2012 Symposium “Audible Intimacies: A Symposium on Song in South Indian Cinema” organized by Kaley Mason, Department of Music, University of Chicago: “Dam it’s gonna blow: Tamil film music and the origins of Tamil hip hop”
  • 2011 National University of Singapore: “Re-Writing the Body for the Third Millennium: Reflections On Contemporary Tamil Women’s Poetry”
  • 2011 World Tamil Writers Conference, Singapore: “From Diasporic Tamil Literature to Global Tamil Literature: Tamil Authors, Texts, and Readers in Motion”
  • 2011 University of Chicago, Humanities Day lecture: “Why learn a foreign language?”.
  • 2010 interview for the Canadian Tamil Radio ( on culture and education in the Tamil diaspora, aired 26 December 2010.
  • 2010  University of Chicago conference “Creative Presents: Global Tamil Literature Today (A Conference in Honor of James Lindholm)”: “The Location of Tamil Literature: Some Observations on the Making of a Global Literary Culture”
  • 2010 University of Chicago Center in Paris, Workshop titled “Intertext and Intratext”: “Notes on (French) Theory and Indian Textual Practice: A Rapprochement”.
  • 2010 University of Chicago, Divinity School conference “Hindus in India and America: Hinduizing America; Globalizing India”: “Being Hindu in(between) Sri Lanka and Canada: On War, Trauma, and Diaspora”
  • 2010 University of Toronto, Tamil Studies Conference: “On War, Humanism, and the Uses of Sri Lankan Tamil Literature”
  • 2010 University of California, Berkeley, Tamil Chair Conference: “‘Tell him the story of the spreading blood’: The Civil War in Sri Lanka and the Poets”
  • 2010 University of Pennsylvania, South Asia Colloquium: “Another Tomorrow for Nantanar: The Continuation and Re-Invention of a Medieval Tamil Untouchable Saint”
  • 2009 Symposium “Sound Works: Musicians and Media in South Asian Cities” organized by Kaley Mason, Department of Music, University of Chicago: “‘Aiyyo, love is full of pain’: Hyperreal masculinity in Shankar’s film Boys (2003) and the study of gender in Tamil South India”
  • 2009 Yale University, conference “Tamil Literary Culture Past & Present”: “On the Eve of the ‘Modern’: The Transformation of Tamil Literary Culture during the Nineteenth Century”
  • 2008 37th Annual Conference on South Asia, University of Wisconsin - Madison: “Figurations of (Hyper)Real Masculinities in Tamil Literature and Cinema”