Joe Elder and his bride, Joann, sailed to India in 1951 to teach English in high schools in Tamilnadu. Part of their reimbursement after they returned was to be a free year of graduate study in Oberlin College, Ohio.
For his master’s thesis, Elder asked the question: “What happens to the caste system among Indian Christians – given the Christians’ formal denunciation of the caste system and the Christians’ lack of belief in reincarnation (the moral justification of the caste system)?”
That marked the beginning of six decades of asking questions about India.
On Thursday, March 13, Joseph Elder, a professor of sociology, languages and cultures of Asia, and integrated liberal studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will give a special public lecture about some of the subsequent questions, along with some of the surprises he has encountered along the way.
The talk, “Sixty Years of Asking Questions,” will be held in Ingraham Hall, Room 206, at noon, sponsored by the Center for South Asia. The event is free and open to the public.
The event is billed as a celebration of Elder’s long career and service to UW-Madison and the field of South Asian studies.
Elder, who has taught at UW–Madison for 52 years, has built a global reputation in the field of international studies. He is retiring at the end of the current academic year.
Upon his arrival at UW–Madison, Elder was drafted almost immediately to lead a new College Year in India program, which has now sent more than 1,000 students to India to spend a year doing field research, as well as learning Indian languages and other elements of Indian culture.
Over the years, he also has mentored struggling doctoral candidates; started a certificate program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies; produced documentaries about South Asia; and taught hundreds of students per semester about life in world cultures.