Anthropologists sometimes study sensitive topics and it is therefore not uncommon for ethnographic work to attract serious criticism along such lines. In a recent social media thread, I encountered one such critic whose principal argument was, that both I the ethnographer and the academic study of religion in general had no business writing about religious traditions (Shaligrams, in my case), should not be participating in rituals or engaging with sacred objects. What should the ethnographer’s response to this be then? What is our role in all this?
Author: Holly Walters, a cultural anthropologist at Wellesley College, United States. Her work focuses on religion, language, and ritual practice in South Asia. Her current research addresses issues of political practice and ritual mobility in the high Himalayas of Mustang, Nepal among Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims who venerate sacred ammonite fossils, called Shaligrams. Holly is … Continue reading A Cultural Zoo: Shaligram Stone in an Ammonite World
I was having second thoughts, but pressed on safe in the knowledge that I was performing an act that would raise my esteem in the eyes of those present and help to rapidly acculturate me. Biting down on the now-charred-still-white pieces, to be sure, the flesh was not as bad as I expected. Neither good nor bad, it was remarkably neutral in taste - flavoured only with a little bit of salt and eaten with lavash bread. My guide smiled as I ate. “They say it’s good for your virility”, he chuckled, “but not even us locals really eat it that much”.
As the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby powerfully put it, it would help if we didn’t start by seeing females and males as being from different planets. Experiences of violence and the broader social receptiveness to vulnerability, along with the manifestation of mental disorders and treatment, are influenced - but not entirely determined by gender.