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"Daniel is brilliant, and this work is the product of all his powers of imagination and expression. He is also a flawless scholar: bilingual, so that his translations are accurate; gifted, so that they are charming; well-read, so that his discussions are set in the full context of previous scholarship; and very, very funny, so that his depictions of the quandaries of his informants, as well as himself, are a joy to read."—Wendy O'Flaherty
How does an ethnographer write about violence? How can he make sense of violent acts, for himself and for his readers, without compromising its sheer excess and its meaning-defying core? How can he remain a scholarly observer when the country of his birth is engulfed by terror? These are some of the questions that engage Valentine Daniel in this exploration of life and death in contemporary Sri Lanka. In 1983 Daniel "walked into the ashes and mortal residue" of the violence that had occurred in his homeland. His planned project--the study of women's folk songs as ethnohistory--was immediately displaced by the responsibility that he felt had been given to him, by surviving family members and friends of victims, to recount beyond Sri Lanka what he had seen and heard there. Trained to do fieldwork by staying in one place and educated to look for coherence and meaning in human behavior, what does an anthropologist do when he is forced by circumstances to keep moving, searching for reasons he never finds? How does he write an ethnography (or an anthropography, to use the author's term) without transforming it into a pornography of violence? In avoiding fattening the anthropography into prurience, how does he avoid flattening it with theory? The ways in which Daniel grapples with these questions, and their answers, instill this groundbreaking book with a rare sense of passion, purpose, and intellect.
Jainism is arguably the most non-violent and austere religion in the world. While lay Jains attempt to never harm humans or animals, the strict non-violence followed by the highly revered monks and nuns also proscribes harm to any living being, even a microscopic organism. And while laywomen (and a few laymen) undergo long and difficult fasts, the longest being for one month, renouncers' austerities also include pulling their hair out by the roots two to five times a year, walking bare-foot throughout India most of the year, and, in the case of some monks, not wearing any clothing at all. Jainism: A Guide for the Perplexed is a clear and thorough account of this fascinating tradition, explaining many basic Jain values, beliefs and practices in the same way they are taught to Jains themselves, through the medium of sacred narratives. Drawing from Jainism's copious and influential narrative tradition, the author explores the inner-logic of how renouncers' and laypeople's values and practices depend on an intricate Jain worldview.
The Self Possessed is a multifaceted, diachronic study reconsidering the very nature of religion in South Asia, the culmination of years of intensive research. Frederick M. Smith proposes that positive oracular or ecstatic possession is the most common form of spiritual expression in India, and that it has been linguistically distinguished from negative, disease-producing possession for thousands of years. In South Asia possession has always been broader and more diverse than in the West, where it has been almost entirely characterized as "demonic." At best, spirit possession has been regarded as a medically treatable psychological ailment and at worst, as a condition that requires exorcism or punishment. In South (and East) Asia, ecstatic or oracular possession has been widely practiced throughout history, occupying a position of respect in early and recent Hinduism and in certain forms of Buddhism. Smith analyzes Indic literature from all ages-the earliest Vedic texts; the Mahabharata; Buddhist, Jain, Yogic, Ayurvedic, and Tantric texts; Hindu devotional literature; Sanskrit drama and narrative literature; and more than a hundred ethnographies. He identifies several forms of possession, including festival, initiatory, oracular, and devotional, and demonstrates their multivocality within a wide range of sects and religious identities. Possession is common among both men and women and is practiced by members of all social and caste strata. Smith theorizes on notions of embodiment, disembodiment, selfhood, personal identity, and other key issues through the prism of possession, redefining the relationship between Sanskritic and vernacular culture and between elite and popular religion. Smith's study is also comparative, introducing considerable material from Tibet, classical China, modern America, and elsewhere. Brilliant and persuasive, The Self Possessed provides careful new translations of rare material and is the most comprehensive study in any language on this subject.
Capricious Worlds covers a period of 20 years of exile. Through the life journeys of Vietnamese refugees, the book presents a world rich in experience and wisdom, where the will to survive is complemented by the skills to do so. Individuals must learn to conquer systems that transform human beings into numbers, and men, women and children into de-personalized figures. The transformations render an unsettling peace that refugees struggle against, inspired by a search for recognition, a search not only for what is lost, but also for what might yet be. The book is about refugees en route to, and in, Norway. It also speaks to the challenges of being exiled in general: a reality for 40 million refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide.
The Saint in the Banyan Tree is a nuanced and historically persuasive exploration of Christianity’s remarkable trajectory as a social and cultural force in southern India. Starting in the seventeenth century, when the religion was integrated into Tamil institutions of caste and popular religiosity, this study moves into the twentieth century, when Christianity became an unexpected source of radical transformation for the country’s ‘untouchables’ (dalits). Mosse shows how caste was central to the way in which categories of ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ were formed and negotiated in missionary encounters, and how the social and semiotic possibilities of Christianity lead to a new politic of equal rights in South India. Skillfully combining archival research with anthropological fieldwork, this book examines the full cultural impact of Christianity on Indian religious, social and political life. Connecting historical ethnography to the preoccupations of priests and Jesuit social activists, Mosse throws new light on the contemporary nature of caste, conversion, religious synthesis, secularization, dalit politics, the inherent tensions of religious pluralism, and the struggle for recognition among subordinated people.

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