Hindu Death Rituals

Amy L. Allocco used Fulbright award to study Hindu practices in modern day India.

Assistant Professor Amy L. Allocco, Elon University's distinguished emerging scholar in religious studies, received a Fulbright award to spend the 2015-16 academic year in India to continue her research of Hindu death rituals.

Allocco spent a year observing and interviewing families that were conducting elaborate public ceremonies in order to communicate with dead female relatives. The ceremonies solicit spirits to return to the world to safeguard the loved ones they left behind.

Allocco recorded performances and dialogues with the dead, and conducted both formal and informal interviews in Tamil with dozens of ceremonial participants.

“I am interested in locating these ceremonies within the broader repertoire of Tamil Hindu funerary offerings and death rites and expect that my ethnographic study will enable me to theorize a system of ritual transactions and relationships with spirits of the dead little known in the scholarly literature on Hindu traditions,” Allocco said. “This will enrich our understanding of a central feature of vernacular, lived Hinduism.”

Administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, under a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of State, the Fulbright Scholar Program each year sends about 800 U.S. faculty and professionals to more than 150 countries to lecture, research or participate in seminars, according to the program website. Approximately the same number of foreign faculty each year visit the United States through the program.

The Fulbright was the second major award Allocco received within a six-month period to support her research. In the fall of 2014, she received $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities through a grant application to the American Institute of Indian Studies, a consortium of 80 U.S. colleges and universities that is headquartered in New Delhi and has offices in Chicago.

Allocco joined the Elon faculty as an assistant professor of religious studies in 2009 after completing her doctorate in the West and South Asian Religions program in the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University. She holds a master of theological studies degree from Harvard Divinity School and a bachelor’s degree from Colgate University.

Her research focuses on vernacular Hinduism, especially contemporary Hindu ritual traditions and women’s religious practices, in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India, where she has been studying, learning the Tamil language and conducting fieldwork since 1995. She currently serves as the faculty director of Elon's Global Neighborhood residential complex.

Trained both as an ethnographer of South Asian religions and in approaches to Hindu textual traditions, Allocco has developed specializations in performance and ritual studies as well as gender and religion.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered through the Institute of International Education, the Fulbright was established in 1946 by Congress to “enable the government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”