Ep. #14 Thesis writing, picturing cults, Muslims with caste, & fieldwork boredom: this month on TFS

iTunes Button (via NiftyButtons.com) Ian (1:25) starts us off by asking, just how well-written does a thesis need to be? “As anthropologists, basically what we do is write… whether it’s writing your field notes, or whether it’s writing up your articles or your dissertation… and most of us have never actually been trained in how to write.” As Julia says, “there are so many ways of articulating the human condition Subscribe on Androidand our field experiences, that what we do will be good enough as long as it’s true to us, and with any luck, it might resonate with someone else one day.”

Julia mentions this ethnography by Lisa Stevenson:

Stevenson, Lisa (2014) Life Beside itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Julia (6:12), reflecting on a recent viewing of Wild Wild Country and some news items about an Australian group called Universal Medicine, asks: what makes a cult? “Does this popular discourse of ‘cult’ have anything to do with what scholars might otherwise explore in those communities?” As Simon, a former religious studies guy, argues, the new religious movements often imagined as “cults” are often indistinguishable from other religions in their early days. And as Said reminds us, “it is in the popular discourse that there is this identifications of these groups as cults, but they do not themselves identify as cults.”

Next, special guest Saidalavi P.C. (10:00) tells us about caste among Muslims in India, where some poorer followers of the religion find political advantage in being included in the Hindu caste structure. “The majority of Muslims claim that their religion is egalitarian. So any claim of having hierarchy or socio-economic disadvantages based on hereditary relationships actually contests their idea of egalitarian religion.” Simon reflects on similar questions in Iran, where the idea of “pure” Arabian Islam runs into the concept of a more fully realized Persian Islam. “It’s a very unpalatable discourse, because they feel themselves to, in some ways, to have helped Islam reach its full potential, its full capacity, through Persian culture. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happened in India. People seem to be uncomfortable with the notion of Islam having mixed with Hinduism.”

Said pays tribute to Justice Rajinder Sachar, and mentions the work of a few scholars of caste in India. Here are some samples of their work:

Ahmad, Imtiaz. (1973) Caste and Social Stratification among the Muslims. Manolar Book Service (distributed in U.A.A.: South Asia Books, Columbia, Mo.), Delhi.

Dumont, Louis. (1970) Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and its Implications. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.. Vikas Pub. House, New Delhi.

Fuller, C. J. (1996) Caste Today. Oxford University Press, New York.

Hutton, J. H. (1946) Caste in India: Its Nature, Function and Origins. The University Press, Cambridge [Eng.].

Jairath, Vinod K. (2005) “Studying Communal Riots in India: Some Methodological Issues.” Sociological Bulletin, vol. 54, no. 3, pp. 443-462.

Lindholm, Charles. “Paradigms of Society: A Critique of Theories of Caste among Indian Muslims.” European Journal of Sociology, vol. 26, no. 1, 1985, pp. 131-141.

Madan, T. N. (1976) Muslim Communities of South Asia: Culture and Society

Vatuk, Sylvia J.(1990) “Hindu Women and the Power of Ideology . Vanaja Dhruvarajan.” American Anthropologist, vol. 92, no. 3, pp. 789-790.

Said is a PhD student in anthropology in ANU’s School of Culture, History, and Language. You can find more of his work on his blog, Naked Eye.

Last, Simon (15:32) takes on the issue of boredom during fieldwork, following on from a recent blog post of his that stirred a big response. “Boredom in the field can actually be informative,” he argues. “Boredom can be a learning opportunity, it is potentially in and of itself a moment to further understand the culture. But that doesn’t mean that people–” ethnographers, that is–“don’t get bored.”

Narayan, K. (1993). How Native Is a “Native” Anthropologist? American Anthropologist, 95(3), new series, 671-686.

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the schools of Culture, History, and Language and Archaeology and Anthropology at Australian National University, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com

Show notes by Ian Pollock

[Image by Julia Brown]

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