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Religion Research Blog

Grateful to be Getting Started in Maharashtra by Mallory Hennigar

View of Wardha, Maharashtra from Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University.

View of Wardha, Maharashtra from Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University.

September 19, 2017

Hello all! I write to you from Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University in Wardha, Maharasthra, India at the very beginning of my fieldwork experience.

After traveling for about 24 hours and landing in one piece in Delhi despite a last minute flight change due to Harvey weather effects, I knew my first post would have to be about the gratitude I feel towards everyone who has helped me get here and also everyone who is continuing to help me while I am here. While at first, I wasn’t feeling particularly grateful towards the insanely rude United Airlines employees who ‘helped’ me to reroute my flights, I even had some gratitude to spare when all of my luggage arrived safely!

Traveling so far from home often makes me feel totally helpless, especially at first. I’m used to being able to get in my car and take myself wherever I want to go, whereas in the bustling metropolis of Delhi even crossing the street can be an immense challenge (for which I did indeed require the help of a kind woman who stopped to show me a safe passage at a particularly difficult intersection on my first day). Needless to say, when I’m already jetlagged, facing an Indian city seems almost impossible. However, the amazing directors and staff at the American Institute of Indian Studies (http://www.indiastudies.org), Purnima Mehta, Rajender Kumar, and Mini-ji, could not have been more accommodating and helpful. They provided me with all the information I needed and shepherded me around so that I would be prepared to face the mountain of required formalities for my arrival. I could not be more grateful to have the aid and support of such a wonderful organization.

I am also so grateful for the friendship of my colleague in the Anthropology department Alisa Weinstein who came to welcome me in Delhi before heading off for further travels at the tail end of her research year. Her enthusiasm for her work on tailors in Jaipur helped me to feel energized to begin my research despite my jetlag and anxiety.

After finishing up my two days in Delhi, I set off to Nagpur, Maharashtra – the location of my research project. I was able to meet with some friends who I met last year who were kind and welcoming as ever to a bumbling foreigner. However, I am especially grateful for the support of Dr. Lella Karunyakara of Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya and his students and staff who have been putting up with the inconvenience of dealing with all of the required registration paperwork to host a foreign student while also helping to secure housing, phone access, and every other required comfort for me. Not only has he done all of this, but Dr. Karunyakara has taken the time out of his extremely busy schedule as a Dean to read my work and offer guidance in my research. The amount of hospitality I have received is unparalleled and I cannot but feel overwhelmed by the gratitude I feel towards everyone I have met so far.

For me, travel to India is always an extremely humbling experience. While it certainly presents unique challenges, the opportunities to meet so many kind, intelligent, and talented people have always made me eager to return.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention all of you back home in the Syracuse University Department of Religion who have supported me and prepared me for this amazing opportunity to fulfill my intellectual passions! I especially want to thank Dr. Tej Bhatia, my Hindi teacher in LLL, without whom I would be totally lost while here in India, as well as my ‘guides’ Drs. Waghorne, Gold, and Fisher who have helped me every step of the way.

I’m sorry to begin with such a sentimental post that recounts very little adventure, but I hope this will be resolved in my next post. Until I write again, I hope you all are having a wonderful beginning of year back in Syracuse! As the chill begins to set in, you can be grateful yourselves as you think of me sweating in Maharasthra.

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Contact Information
Mallory Hennigar

The Practice of Preparation by Sara Swenson

[Image 1: Cardiff Castle chapel ceiling with geometric patterns: Cardiff, UK]

[Image 1: Cardiff Castle chapel ceiling with geometric patterns: Cardiff, UK]

August 29, 2017

Greetings Syracuse students and company!

I am writing from Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where I am waiting to start fieldwork in Vietnam in ten days. In many ways, my fieldwork started weeks ago with language review, IRB protocol forms, and visa paperwork. After hearing the wonderful news that I had been awarded the Robert HN Ho Dissertation Research Fellowship in Buddhist Studies, I immediately emailed friends and contacts in Vietnam to let them know I would be returning this fall.

Starting my ethnographic project means starting a long process of changing my personal habits and way of thinking. Ethnography is equal parts research method and lifestyle, noun and verb. I have been practicing listening carefully in conversations and observing details around me that would be easy to overlook. I have also been trying to journal every day, to get in the habit of writing. The biggest change for me was buying a camera. I have never been much of a photographer. This decision was prompted by the realization that if I want to publish images from my fieldwork in the future, they will need to come from a quality camera.

 That said, a quality camera is only good in the hands of a quality photographer. I've been practicing my photography skills at every chance, to make sure my camera has the operator it deserves. I’m learning that photography isn’t an art form. It is a process of negotiation. Things move, colors change, people laugh, and the camera even turns itself off sometimes (in protest to my clumsy thumbs). Either way, it seems I very rarely succeed in taking a picture. Mostly, pictures succeed in taking themselves. I am one thread in a net of circumstances that sometimes captures something beautiful.

The same may be said of ethnography. Ethnographic texts are a product of circumstances and negotiations. Things move, colors change, people laugh, and language sometimes turns itself off – in shock, heartbreak, joy, or protest. As I prepare to start fieldwork, I have also been reviewing a few influential texts on ethnographic methods, to make sure my project has the ethically attentive researcher it deserves. For those who are curious about what this means, I’ll end by including a few helpful and informative resources, here:

  • Alcoff, Linda. 1992. “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” pg. 5-32 in Cultural Critique (20).
  • Creswell, John W. 2013. “Five Qualitative Approaches to Inquiry,” pg. 69-110 in Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • Creswell, John W. 2013. “The Process of Designing a Qualitative Study,” pg. 42-68 in Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • DeVault, Marjorie L. and Glenda Gross. 2006. “Feminist Interviewing: Experience, Talk, and Knowledge,” pg. 173-197 in Handbook of Feminist Research: Theory and Praxis. Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber (ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • Dewalt, Kathleen M. and Billie R. Dewalt. 2010. “Doing Participant Observation” p. 41-65 in Participant Observation: A Guide for Fieldworkers. 2nd Edition. Lanham: AltaMira Press.
  • Dewalt, Kathleen M. and Billie R. Dewalt. 2010. “Informal Interviewing in Participant Observation,” pp. 137-156 in Participant Observation: A Guide for Fieldworkers. 2nd Edition.  Lanham: AltaMira Press.
  • Okely, Judith. 2010. "Fieldwork as Free Association and Free Passage," pg. 28-41 in Ethnographic Practice in the Present. Marit Melhuus, Jon P. Mitchell, and Helena Wulff (eds). New York: Berghahn Books.
  • Rodriguez, Dalia. 2010. “Storytelling in the Field; Race, Method, and the Empowerment of Latina College Students,” pg. 491-507 in Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies (10.6). Thousand Oaks: Sage Journals.
  • Stacey, Judith. 1988. “Can There Be a Feminist Ethnography?” pg. 21-27 in Women’s Studies International Forum (2.1).

 My next post will come from Vietnam! Until then, be well.

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Contact Information
Sara Swenson