My books just went up for library pre-order! I can’t believe I am finally looking at it!!
I’m starting a new blog but don’t worry, I can explain!
As the readership of my Peregrinations blog has grown, it has become clear to me that the content of this blog should primarily focus on my ethnographic work, on Shaligram research, and on my continued relationships with the Hindu and South Asian community. In other words, it has come to my attention that the readership of Peregrinations is, aside from friends and family, almost exclusively Shaligram or pilgrimage based and, as such, some of my more general, political, or media oriented commentaries aren’t fitting to the readers.
Therefore, I am splitting my online writing into two sites. Peregrinations will now focus completely on my anthropological and ethnographic work. I will continue to post about my publications, my research, Shaligram discussions, my work in Nepal and India, and so on right here. However, my new blog, Mocking the Apocalypse, will now focus on the particularly political, social, religious, media, and popular culture discussions I tend to engage in otherwise.
So, if you like my writing, feel free to follow both. But you’ll have to catch my more controversial arguments at www.mockingtheapocalypse.com.
A few days ago I had the wonderful honor of being interviewed for the “Secular Stories” podcast. We had a great conversation, ranging from feminism and social media, the anthropology of religion, my fieldwork, and my upcoming article publication about the use of sacred theater plays in the Hindu traditions of South Asia.
Tune in to this podcast and, of course, check out the rest of their podcasts at the link below.
Secular Stories — Interview with Holly Walters
Hey guys, check out my follow-up fieldwork interview on this week’s episode of This Anthropological Life!
Back from the Field: Syncing into Holly Walter’s Research Part 2
As many of you already know, a second earthquake (7.3 magnitude) struck Nepal on May 12th. This one, with an epicenter much further north, primarily affected Mount Everest and the surrounding villages but still resulted in a death toll around 80. And I am still going.
For the moment, my fieldwork plans have not changed significantly from the first post-earthquake revision. My plane tickets are booked, my itinerary still valid (as far as I know), my visa approved and my passport returned from the embassy. This does not mean, of course, that tensions are not already running high. My family is concerned for my safety and my committee is already bandying about some possible alternative plans should Nepal prove to be too geographically unstable for this summer’s planned project. There is the possibility of additional intensive language training, perhaps a supplemental religion class, even a full-scale project redirection back to northern India where my original fieldwork was conducted in 2012. I have “a lot of balls in the air,” as they a say. A metaphor one of my more theatrically inclined undergraduate professors at UW-Madison used to favor at particularly stressful times of indecision. Right along with “herding cats.”
But if I can go, I will go.
Barring a third natural disaster between now, then, and afterwards I feel it still imperative that I get on the ground as soon as possible. The trekking company that I have booked my transportation through is already using their resources to move relief supplies into the western provinces and with any luck, I’ll be joining them. This is how anthropology can both “see” as well as “do,” or in more disciplinary jargon, “observe” as well as “participate.” I know that things will be complicated and difficult once I arrive, but this was never a vacation. And I know that many will still be without adequate food, shelter, and medical care. But I also know that ritual, pilgrimage, and religious renewal are already re-taking hold throughout the region as people struggle to not just preserve their lives, but to sustain the spirit that gave them breath in the first place.
On April 24th, 2015, I successfully defended my dissertation proposal for conducting ethnographic fieldwork on pilgrimage and ritual practice in Nepal. Less than 24 hours later, a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck, destroying significant sections of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and many villages throughout Sindhupalchok, Dolakha, Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Dhading and Gorkha Districts. As of today, at least 6,204 people are reported dead and over 14,000 have been injured. Many more still lack adequate food, water, and shelter. Within hours, many of my friends and colleagues had contacted me. “Was everyone I knew alright?” “Was my research still possible?” and perhaps even more saliently…”Was I still going to Kathmandu?”
The answer is yes. My plans to fly to Kathmandu on June 1st were made months ago. However, the initial project called for only a few days in the capital city before trekking westward to Mustang District where the bulk of my research would take place. Mustang was lucky. The people and temples and villages there were spared the worst of the tremors and my main fieldsite, the village of Ranipauwa and the temple of Muktinath-Chumig Gyatsa all survived the earthquake without casualties. Hours after the news reports started rolling in, I was also grateful to hear from Muktinath Foundation International (located in Amsterdam) that they had also successfully made phone contact with the Muktinath nun’s retreat monastery in Kathmandu. The nuns and their families all survived and the monastery, blessedly, still stands.
But the context of my work has shifted. Arriving less than 4 weeks after the disaster, my work will not only still be possible but more timely than ever. Undoubtedly, things in Nepal will change drastically in the coming months but ethnographic fieldwork is nothing if not accommodating of sudden changes in focus, the fluctuating nature of human experience, and fast-paced, on-the-ground, transitions. While my topical focus will likely remain much the same, I must now account for religious practice, cultural synthesis, nationalism, and pilgrimage in a time of great sorrow. I will also do what I can to help. In anthropology, we engage with human lives not only in the academic and abstract, but in the many harsh and painful ways it is actually lived.
It is likely that there will be little I can do to help directly once I arrive. There are currently multiple national and international aid organizations providing relief and aid throughout Kathmandu and the surrounding villages. And their work will continue as necessity persists. If you want to help, help them by donating. I will be there, listening, and learning, and lifting up where, when, and if I can. And when I have done that, I will return again later. And do it again. What I can offer may be small, but I offer it all the same.
In the end, that is what we all can do. Geological surveys indicate that Mount Everest dropped by an inch following the quake, and that Kathmandu was lifted roughly 3 feet from its original position. It’s part of the reason the city suffered so much damage. But if Kathmandu is to survive, it may need to be lifted again. May we join the hands that hold it high.
Ever wanted me to answer all those pressing questions you keep meaning to ask? Ever wonder how I successfully link Chuck E. Cheese metaphors with ethnographic fieldwork? Check out my interview on this week’s episode of “This Anthropological Life!” Hosted by Ryan H. Collins and Aneil Tripathy.
“Sometimes ethnographic investigations are pretty straight forward. Sometimes, its like getting submerged in a ball pit with the task of sorting all of the colors, figuring out which ones are older than the others, and grappling with any surprises (and there will be surprises) that come your way. Join us as we talk with Anthropologist Holly Walters on her dissertation work at Muktinath, Nepal and learn about the sacred stones that draw people in as well as spreading out across the globe.”