University of Pennsylvania Press

Contemporary Ethnography

Kirin Narayan, Series Editor

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

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Contemporary Ethnography

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Fighting for Faith and Nation

Dialogues with Sikh Militants

By Cynthia Keppley Mahmood

The ethnic and religious violence that characterized the late twentieth century calls for new ways of thinking and writing about politics. Listening to the voices of people who experience political violence—either as victims or as perpetrators—gives new insights into both the sources of violent conflict and the potential for its resolution.

Drawing on her extensive interviews and conversations with Sikh militants, Cynthia Keppley Mahmood presents their accounts of the human rights abuses inflicted on them by the state of India as well as their explanations of the philosophical tradition of martyrdom and meaningful death in the Sikh faith. While demonstrating how divergent the world views of participants in a conflict can be, Fighting for Faith and Nation gives reason to hope that our essential common humanity may provide grounds for a pragmatic resolution of conflicts such as the one in Punjab which has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the past fifteen years.

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Fire in My Bones

Transcendence and the Holy Spirit in African American Gospel

By Glenn Hinson

Glenn Hinson focuses on a single gospel program and offers a major contribution to our understanding not just of gospel but of the nature of religious experience.

A key feature of African American performance is the layering of performative voices and the constant shifting of performative focus. To capture this layering, Hinson demonstrates how all the parts of the gospel program work together to shape a single whole, joining speech and song, performer and audience, testimony, prayer, preaching, and singing into a seamless and multifaceted service of worship. Personal stories ground the discussion at every turn, while experiential testimony fuels the unfolding arguments. Fire in My Bones is an original exploration of experience and belief in a community of African American Christians, but it is also an exploration of African American aesthetics, the study of belief, and the ethnographic enterprise.

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Gender on the Market

Moroccan Women and the Revoicing of Tradition

By Deborah Kapchan

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Book for 1996

Gender on the Market is a study of Moroccan women's expressive culture and the ways in which it both determines and responds to current transformations in gender roles. Beginning with women's emergence into what has been defined as the most paradigmatic of Moroccan male institutions—the marketplace—the book elucidates how gender and commodity relations are experienced and interpreted in women's aesthetic practices.

Deborah Kapchan compellingly demonstrates that Moroccan women challenge some of the most basic cultural assumptions of their society—especially ones concerning power and authority.

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Healing Secular Life

Loss and Devotion in Modern Turkey

By Christopher Dole

In contemporary Turkey—a democratic, secular, and predominantly Muslim nation—the religious healer is a controversial figure. Attracting widespread condemnation, religious healers are derided as exploiters of the sick and vulnerable, discredited forms of Islamic and medical authority, and superstitious relics of a pre-modern era. Yet all sorts of people, and not just the desperately ill, continue to seek them out. After years of research with healers and their patients in working-class neighborhoods of urban Turkey, anthropologist Christopher Dole concludes that the religious healer should be regarded not as an exception to Turkey's secular modern development but as one of its defining figures. Healing Secular Life demonstrates that religious healing and secularism in fact have a set of common stakes in the ordering of lives and the remaking of worlds.

Linking the history of medical reforms and scientific literacy campaigns to contemporary efforts of Qur'anic healers to treat people afflicted by spirits and living saints through whom deceased political leaders speak, Healing Secular Life approaches stories of healing and being healed as settings for examining the everyday social intimacies of secular political rule. This ethnography of loss, care, and politics reveals not only that the authority of the religious healer is deeply embedded within the history of secular modern reform in Turkey but also that personal narratives of suffering and affliction are inseparable from the story of a nation seeking to recover from the violence of its own secular past.

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An Imagined Geography

Sierra Leonean Muslims in America

By JoAnn D'Alisera

For more than a decade a vicious civil war has torn the fabric of society in the West African country of Sierra Leone, forcing thousands to flee their homes for refugee camps and others to seek peace and asylum abroad. Sierra Leoneans have established new communities around the world, in London, Paris, New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Yet despite the great geographic range of this diaspora and the diverse ethnic backgrounds among Sierra Leoneans settled in the same communities abroad, these Africans have come to understand and express their shared identity through religious rituals, social engagements, and material culture.

In An Imagined Geography, anthropologist JoAnn D'Alisera demonstrates persuasively that the long-held anthropological paradigms of separate, bounded, and unique communities, geographically located and neatly localized, must be reconsidered. Studying Sierra Leonean Muslims living in greater Washington, D.C., she shows how these immigrants maintain intense and genuine community ties through weddings, rituals, and travel, across both vast urban spaces and national boundaries. D'Alisera examines two primary issues: Sierra Leoneans' engagement with their homeland, to which they frequently traveled and often sent their children for upbringing until the outbreak of the civil war; and the Sierra Leonean interaction with a diverse, multicultural, increasingly global Muslim community that is undergoing its own search for identity.

Sierra Leoneans in America, D'Alisera observes, express a longing for home and the pain of disconnection in powerful narratives about their country and about their own displacement. At the same time, however, self and communal identity are shaped by a pressing need to affiliate in their adopted country with Sierra Leoneans of all ethnic and religious backgrounds and with fellow Muslims from other parts of the world, a process that is played out against the complex social field of the American urban landscape.

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Knowing Dil Das

Stories of a Himalayan Hunter

By Joseph S. Alter

Dil Das was a poor farmer—an untouchable—living near Mussoorie, a colonial hill station in the Himalayas. As a boy he became acquainted with a number of American missionary children attending a boarding school in town and, over the years, developed close friendships with them and, eventually, with their sons. The basis for these friendships was a common passion for hunting. This passion and the friendships it made possible came to dominate Dil Das's life.

When Joseph S. Alter, one of the boys who had hunted with Dil Das, became an adult and a scholar, he set out to write the life history of Dil Das as a way of exploring Garhwali peasant culture. But Alter found his friend uninterested in talking about traditional ethnographic subjects, such as community life, family, or work. Instead, Dil Das spoke almost exclusively about hunting with his American friends—telling endless tales about friendship and hunting that seemed to have nothing to do with peasant culture.

When Dil Das died in 1986, Alter put the project away. Years later, he began rereading Dil Das's stories, this time from a completely new perspective. Instead of looking for information about peasant culture, he was able to see that Dil Das was talking against culture. From this viewpoint Dil Das's narrative made sense for precisely those reasons that had earlier seemed to render it useless—his apparent indifference toward details of everyday life, his obsession with hunting, and, above all, his celebration of friendship.

To a degree in fact, but most significantly in Dil Das's memory, hunting served to merge his and the missionary boys' identities and, thereby, to supersede and render irrelevant all differences of class, caste, and nationality. For Dil Das the intimate experience of hunting together radically decentered the prevailing structure of power and enabled him to redefine himself outside the framework of normal social classification.

Thus, Knowing Dil Das is not about peasant culture but about the limits of culture and history. And it is about the moral ambiguity of writing and living in a field of power where, despite intimacy, self and other are unequal.

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Love and Honor in the Himalayas

Coming To Know Another Culture

By Ernestine McHugh

American anthropologist Ernestine McHugh arrived in the foothills of the Annapurna mountains in Nepal, and, surrounded by terraced fields, rushing streams, and rocky paths, she began one of several sojourns among the Gurung people whose ramro hawa-pani (good wind and water) not only describes the enduring bounty of their land but also reflects the climate of goodwill they seek to sustain in their community. It was in their steep Himalayan villages that McHugh came to know another culture, witnessing and learning the Buddhist appreciation for equanimity in moments of precious joy and inevitable sorrow.

Love and Honor in the Himalayas is McHugh's gripping ethnographic memoir based on research among the Gurungs conducted over a span of fourteen years. As she chronicles the events of her fieldwork, she also tells a story that admits feeling and involvement, writing of the people who housed her in the terms in which they cast their relationship with her, that of family. Welcomed to call her host Ama and become a daughter in the household, McHugh engaged in a strong network of kin and friendship. She intimately describes, with a sure sense of comedy and pathos, the family's diverse experiences of life and loss, self and personhood, hope, knowledge, and affection. In mundane as well as dramatic rituals, the Gurungs ever emphasize the importance of love and honor in everyday life, regardless of circumstances, in all human relationships. Such was the lesson learned by McHugh, who arrived a young woman facing her own hardships and came to understand—and experience—the power of their ways of being.

While it attends to a particular place and its inhabitants, Love and Honor in the Himalayas is, above all, about human possibility, about what people make of their lives. Through the compelling force of her narrative, McHugh lets her emotionally open fieldwork reveal insight into the privilege of joining a community and a culture. It is an invitation to sustain grace and kindness in the face of adversity, cultivate harmony and mutual support, and cherish life fully.

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Matching Organs with Donors

Legality and Kinship in Transplants

By Marie-Andree Jacob

While the traffic in human organs stirs outrage and condemnation, donations of such material are perceived as highly ethical. In reality, the line between illicit trafficking and admirable donation is not so sharply drawn. Those entangled in the legal, social, and commercial dimensions of transplanting organs must reconcile motives, bureaucracy, and medical desperation. Matching Organs with Donors: Legality and Kinship in Transplants examines the tensions between law and practice in the world of organ transplants—and the inventive routes patients may take around the law while going through legal processes.

In this sensitive ethnography, Marie-Andrée Jacob reveals the methods and mindsets of doctors, administrators, gray-sector workers, patients, donors, and sellers in Israel's living kidney transplant bureaus. Matching Organs with Donors describes how suitable matches are identified between donor and recipient using terms borrowed from definitions of kinship. Jacob presents a subtle portrait of the shifting relationships between organ donors/sellers, patients, their brokers, and hospital officials who often accept questionably obtained organs.

Jacob's incisive look at the cultural landscapes of transplantation in Israel has wider implications. Matching Organs with Donors deepens our understanding of the law and management of informed consent, decision-making among hospital professionals, and the shadowy borders between altruism and commerce.

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Miracles and Extraordinary Experience in Northern Kenya

By Bilinda Straight

The Samburu of northern Kenya struggle to maintain their pastoral way of life as drought and the side effects of globalization threaten both their livestock and their livelihood. Mirroring this divide between survival and ruin are the lines between the self and the other, the living and the dead, "this side" and inia bata, "that side." Cultural anthropologist Bilinda Straight, who has lived with the Samburu for extended periods since the 1990s, bears witness to Samburu life and death in Miracles and Extraordinary Experience in Northern Kenya.

Written mostly in the field, Miracles and Extraordinary Experience in Northern Kenya is the first book-length ethnography completely devoted to Samburu divinity and belief. Here, child prophets recount their travels to heaven and back. Others report transformations between persons and inanimate objects. Spirit turns into action and back again. The miraculous is interwoven with the mundane as the Samburu continue their day-to-day twenty-first-century existence. Straight describes these fantastic movements inside the cultural logic that makes them possible; thus she calls into question how we experience, how we feel, and how anthropologists and their readers can best engage with the improbable.

In her detailed and precise accounts, Straight writes beyond traditional ethnography, exploring the limits of science and her own limits as a human being, to convey the significance of her time with the Samburu as they recount their fantastic yet authentic experiences in the physical and metaphysical spaces of their culture.

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The Past in Pieces

Belonging in the New Cyprus

By Rebecca Bryant

On April 23, 2003, to the surprise of much of the world, the ceasefire line that divides Cyprus opened. The line had partitioned the island since 1974, and so international media heralded the opening of the checkpoints as a historic event that echoed the fall of the Berlin Wall. As in the moment of the Wall's collapse, cameras captured the rush of Cypriots across the border to visit homes unwillingly abandoned three decades earlier. It was a euphoric moment, and one that led to expectations of reunification. But within a year Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected at referendum a United Nations plan to reunite the island, despite their Turkish compatriots' support for the plan. In The Past in Pieces, anthropologist Rebecca Bryant explores why the momentous event of the opening has not led Cyprus any closer to reunification, and indeed in many ways has driven the two communities of the island further apart.

This chronicle of the "new Cyprus" tells the story of the opening through the voices and lives of the people of one town that has experienced conflict. Over the course of two years, Bryant studied a formerly mixed town in northern Cyprus in order to understand both experiences of life together before conflict and the ways in which the dissolution of that shared life is remembered today. Tales of violation and loss return from the past to shape meanings of the opening in daily life, redefining the ways in which Cypriots describe their own senses of belonging and expectations of the political future. By examining the ways the past is rewritten in the present, Bryant shows how even a momentous opening may lead not to reconciliation but instead to the discovery of new borders that may, in fact, be the real ones.

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