(P108)
Materiality and Imagining Communities
Location SOAS Main Building - 4426
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenor

  • Elizabeth Turk (University of Cambridge) email

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Short abstract

In what ways is belonging negotiated along material lines? This panel will explore the fleshy, embodied and sensorial ways that communities are imagined and perceived across various geographic and socio-historic contexts.

Long abstract

In his seminal piece on nationalism, Benedict Anderson traces the social construction of "the nation" to which a group of people are imagined to belong, especially highlighting the role of the media in projecting such images. Over the past few decades, the concept of imagined communities has proven fertile thinking ground for modeling the ways that, as opposed to static, self-evident units of social analysis, groups emerge in "relational, processual, dynamic, eventful and disaggregated terms" (Brubaker 2006: 11). In what ways might such collectivity formation take place through material processes? This panel explores the fleshy, embodied and sensorial ways that communities are imagined and perceived (inextricable processes in the Kantian sense) across various geographic and socio-historic contexts.

What exactly is gained by fore-fronting material culture in analyzing the ways in which community formation is envisioned? What claims to authority, to same-ness and difference does attention to processes of materialization afford? This panel will focus on collectivity-making that occurs through processes of object- and place-making. Such embodied and emplaced practices - ritualized or otherwise - are envisaged to bind groups of people together just as they delineate borders of exclusion. The manifold and mundane ways such group delineation occurs underscores the consistent work that it takes to secure conceptual stability, be it based on nation, ethnicity, religion or species.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

How Cultural Heritage is shaped by North African Jews in Israel

Author: Anat Feldman (Achva Academic College) email

Short abstract

Entrepreneurs created sacred spaces for pilgrimage in Israel today, New grave sites. They brought to Israel remains of various significant rabbis of North African Jewish communities, who had died even centuries earlier, for reburial. And create a collective ethnic memory and communities of memory.

Long abstract

Some twenty years ago, Jewish immigrants from Muslim countries in Israel began establishing religious-heritage centers for the purpose of renewing their ancestors' traditions. They created sacred spaces for pilgrimage in Israel today - New grave sites. These sacred sites are based on the memory of ancient traditions and religious rituals that were practiced in the immigrants' country of origin. A key characteristic of the establishment of such religious-heritage centers is the formation of a sacred site which can serve as a spiritual center. Thus, the remains of various significant rabbis of North African Jewish communities, who had died decades or even centuries earlier, were brought to Israel for reburial. Behind this "journey of dry bones", lay the mystic belief that rabbis can bring about miracles to those believers who come to pray on their graves, even many years after their passing. The entrepreneurs of these sacred sites control the festivities: the schedule of the festivities, the way of the prayer, and the manner of worshiping. The entrepreneurs are the second generation of immigrants. They create a collective ethnic memory and communities of memory in order to raise their children with a heritage that had been crushed and abandoned by both the state education system and the various political parties.

This lecture will explain how the religious-heritage entrepreneurs built sacred sites and communities of mennory by means of pictures of the sites and the festivities.

War, Slavery, and Aggression: Themes of Violence in Votive Practice

Author: Natalia da Silva (Florida International University) email

Short abstract

As a global practice, votive offerings reflect complexities of the human condition across space and time. Although typically related to health and wellbeing, this paper explores a subset of offerings in which one's miracle is another's demise, particularly in matters of war, slavery, and violence.

Long abstract

As a global practice, votive offerings reflect complexities of the human condition across time and space. In essence, vowed objects are presented to deities and other beings in gratitude or anticipation of divine intervention, often in relation to health, safety, and wellbeing. Longitudinal theme analysis, however, reveals a subset of offerings in which one's miracle might have been another's demise, particularly in matters of war, slavery, and both physical and symbolic violence. Using a mixed methodology approach of visual analysis and archival research, this paper seeks to deepen our understanding of how such objects relate to wider discourses on spirituality and morality within material culture. It relies heavily on existing theoretical frameworks as well as compressive collections of offerings from diverse geographical areas and systems of religious belief. Ultimately, it illustrates the challenges of contemporary readings of the politics of trace in religious landscapes, while also advocating for its essentiality.

The Sensory Eclecticism of the Ni'matnama

Author: Zehra Husain (The Graduate Center, CUNY) email

Short abstract

This presentation argues that the patronizing of the 15th century manuscript, the Ni'matnama, allowed Sultan Ghiyath Shahi to envision a world of sensory eclecticism that brought together disparate objects, material cultures and people to establish Sultanate authority in Medieval Malwa.

Long abstract

The presentation examines Sultan Ghiyath Shahi's book of recipes the Ni'matnama patronized after he ascended the throne to Malwa in 1492. The manuscript depicts a rich courtly life of "pleasure, peace and plenty". It is the latter aspect of this description that has gained currency to explain the production of the manuscript and the Sultan's hedonism. This presentation, however, explores other possibilities that emanate out of the Ni'matnama, apart from the orientalizing tropes that have been associated with Medieval India in the popular imaginary. It argues that the Sultan envisioned a world of sensory eclecticism that brought together not only disparate objects and material cultures but also a wide variety of people to establish Sultanate authority in Malwa. In the painted genre, this eclecticism employed cross-culturation of Indic — Hindu-dominated — and Persian — Muslim-oriented — styles, by mixing Shirazi art with Indic art in the painted manuscripts of the Ni'matnama. This kind of cross-culturation is also present in the recipes that the Sultan lays out in the Ni'matnama. However, this cross-cultural eclecticism extends beyond the Indic-Persian binary, bringing forth a different kind of mixing, i.e. a mixing of people with the mixing of food, spices and smells. This unique eclecticism produced a sensorial regime that consolidated Ghiyath Shahi's authority in Malwa, that keeps at heart the visual and sensory aesthetics of imagining collectivities.

Treasure vases, the Tibetan Buddhist ritual objects practised by Chinese Han Tibetan Buddhists in mainland China

Author: Mei Xue (Durham University ) email

Short abstract

This paper presents the collectively made treasure vases by Chinese Han Tibetan Buddhists and their guru, to examine the aesthetics (of moral and effect) produced and appreciated by the group and individuals.

Long abstract

This presentation is going to discuss the treasure vases used in rituals of Ksitigarbha and the Dragon King treasure vases to pray for sentient beings had suffered in the earthquake in Nepal and Tibet in April 2015.

Treasure vase, metaphorically, is the vase of inexhaustible treasures, which represents health, longevity, wealth and wisdom, and emphasizes the symbolic meaning of wealth and abundance. In Tibetan Buddhist paintings, the treasure vase is portrayed as a fat vase with a short, but slim neck. It is said to have a harmonious effect on its surroundings. I have seen many Han Tibetan Buddhists display treasure vases in their rooms. There is also other type of treasure vase of different themes, which is designed to be buried at Fengshui (Fengshui is an ancient Chinese practice of harmonizing everyone and everything with the surrounding environment to collect good lucks and to refrain from ominousness. It is widely used in buildings and graveyards) determined sites of mountain ranges and water bodies. In my fieldwork, treasure vases used for the ritual were collectively sewed and prayed for blessing by the Chinese Tibetan Buddhists and their guru. I made participant observation with the Tibetan Buddhists at the rituals of making treasure vases, and joined them to display treasure vases into the Yellow River, and buried the remaining vases in the Buddhist mountain of Wutai, to explore meanings of these treasure vases to the Tibetan Buddhists, who were both makers and consumers, of the religious objects.

Scientific aesthetics of spiritual healing and negotiating national identity in post-socialist Mongolia

Author: Elizabeth Turk (University of Cambridge) email

Short abstract

This paper explores the articulation of contested notions of Mongol-ness in discourses of spiritual healing, practices informed by cosmologies of modernity. In what ways do Soviet-era narratives of societal transformation through scientific advancements inform the search for national identity today?

Long abstract

Over the past 15 years, a burgeoning community of non-biomedical practitioners, ranging from energy healers to shamans, fortunetellers to Buddhist healers tend to wellbeing in Mongolia. Practitioners and patients often prioritize such treatments for their reported authentic Mongol-ness, the definition of which remaining highly contested.

Scientific aesthetics shape healing cosmologies as, for instance, shamanic practices that imagine the human body as a battery with positive and negative charges mirroring geo-magnetic forces of the planet, or the cognitive therapy of an enlightened Buddhist lama (huvilgaan) that 'energetically adds to [his patient's] immunity.' Scientific aesthetics also shape the mechanisms of spiritual and 'natural' healing practices, as patients use glucometers to check the efficacy of an arshaan (mineral spring) that treats diabetes by its 'miraculous' water, and an energy healer targets the nervous system, typically the spine, wearing a white physician's coat and a stethoscope around his neck, the x-ray machine on his desk used to quantify his patient's improvement.

This paper suggests that the mechanisms of contemporary spiritual healing practices are deeply informed by modernist projects of scientific and technological advancement that were central to Soviet-era discourses of societal transformation. It explores the ways in which cosmologies of modernity are re-imagined and re-ployed in healing settings as a means to articulate contested notions of national identity. In what ways do aesthetics of scientific, technological and rational thought that were essential to the ushering in of a new Mongolian man and woman inform the invisible transformation inherent to healing the body?

Struggle for separateness: embodiment, materiality and performativity in Naxi ritual

Author: Peter Guangpei Ran (University of Westminster) email

Short abstract

This paper looks at the ritual practices of the Naxi people in southwest China to keep their separate sense of locality from the realms of others. Such efforts can be seen as existential struggles to make sense of their places in the world.

Long abstract

The early history of the Naxi people is widely accepted as one of migration across the vast territory of west and southwest China. Their ritual practices emerging from such long processes are characterised with a strong sense of displacement. They are attempts to constantly claim or negotiate separate space from other indigenous groups, wild animals, ancestors and ghostly beings in the shared experience of diaspora. This paper examines the fragmented remnants of these attempts made by the Naxi people in their everyday practices of place making. I explore how human bodies, living things and other worldly beings are creatively mobilised and engaged with to activate ritual efficacy (Mauss 2006). For instance, they map out a spiritual route for the deceased to embark on back to the ancestral lands with the help of multi sensory practices including chanting, bodily movement, incense burning and painting displaying. Altogether they contribute to a sense of rootedness whilst living with the weight of the displaced past.

The rituals are not simply echoes of history, but are more importantly infused with contemporary concerns. They take place against a background of huge shifts and ruptures in almost every aspect of everyday life in recent decades given rise to by an unprecedented scale of encounters with outside. They can be summarised as existential struggles (Jackson 2013) to inhabit the world full of change, contingency, and uncertainty.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.