Accepted paper:

Sacred places and human well-being in contemporary Shimla


Jonathan Miles-Watson (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper engages theoretical ideas about wellbeing that I developed in ‘Ethnographic Insights into Happiness’ with ideas generated through fieldwork in Shimla. Through this process I demonstrate the complex range of ways that place is central to wellbeing in a contemporary postcolonial city.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I engage theoretical ideas about the importance of place for well-being that I first developed in 'Ethnographic Insights into Happiness' (2009) with ideas that were generated through the process of subsequent fieldwork in contemporary Shimla, North India. During this paper I will show something of the way that competing sacred geographies of place operate in counter-intuitive ways to weave a coherent (if at times discordant) 'implicit mythology' that transforms the space of Shimla into a series of nested (both personal and communally held) places. These seemingly competing processes of becoming in relation to place reveal an essential feature of many contemporary Shimlites well-being: the both historical and ongoing relationships that constitute both person and place. During my fieldwork the most dramatic way that these tensions and resolutions were revealed is through the relationship of colonial Christian places of worship to postcolonial Hindu places of worship. By focussing on the interplay of two key places in particular, one centred on Christchurch Cathedral and the other on Shimla's giant Hanuman, I will explore the way that the apparent tension of these places is resolved through the flow of human and non-human interaction around these sacred places.

panel P59
The place of 'place' in wellbeing scholarship