ASIANetwork is pleased to announce the winner of the 2018 Marianna McJimsey Award for the best undergraduate student paper dealing with Asia. The winning paper is entitled “(In)visible Bodies: Re-theorizing the Consumption of Bodies through Divine Possession in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka,” written by Olivia Dure, 2017 Pomona College graduate with a major in Religion/Religious Studies. Her faculty advisor for the essay is Erin Runions, Professor and Chair of Religious Studies. The essay will also be published in a forthcoming issue of ASIANetwork Exchange.
The Runner-up paper is “India’s Endangered Parsis: State Secularism and Population Policy in Comparative Perspective,” written by Emily McHugh, 2017 Elon University graduate with a major in Policy Studies. Her faculty advisor for the essay is Amy Allocco, Associate Professor of Religious Studies.
Olivia Dure. “(In)visible Bodies: Re-theorizing the Consumption of Bodies through Divine Possession in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka.” This paper examines the ritual of divine possession in post-war Sri Lanka, specifically looking to how the act of divine possession involves a powerful articulation of women’s bodily agency. Drawing from historical sources such as colonial-era journals, legislation, chronicles, political speeches, and news coverage, as well as my own fieldwork, my paper aims to trace how women’s bodies are often depicted as sites of the nation and forcefully consumed, through constructions of gendered norms, forms of labor, and legislation, for the continuance of that nation. I posit that divine possession engages in a reconsumption of women’s bodies that works to counter the violence of the nation/state by making legible on the body itself community trauma.
Emily McHugh. “India’s Endangered Parsis: State Secularism and Population Policy in Comparative Perspective.” Using the case study of the Jiyo Parsi (Long Live Parsi) program, a recent government initiative intended to slow the alarming decline in the Parsi population, this article examines how this tiny community has been able to influence government policy relating to their community practices within the framework of the Indian secular state. By situating this progressive initiative within the broader historical and societal contexts of India’s national family planning policies, this article also raises questions about how the recently established Hindu nationalist government may serve to widen the divide between religious minority groups. I argue that the experience of the Parsis reveals a discrepancy in the Indian government’s approach to secularity that systematically privileges certain community groups over others.