Balancing Acts: An Ethnographer’s Thoughts on Studying Religion

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?

On Being Declared Missing in the Himalayas

Neither the Fulbright Commission overseeing my work nor the US Embassy in Kathmandu could contact me and, in the interim, the three other visitors to Mustang had all been declared missing and then subsequently found dead. This was one of those situations where, due to the fact that I was believed to be hurt or lost, a series of emergency procedures would go into effect. I would also later find out that several staff members at Fulbright had already been quietly talking about what kind of memorial they would be holding when the inevitable news arrived.