Amy Allocco has received a Collaborative International Research Grant from the American Academy of Religion to support joint fieldwork in India, a symposium, and a special journal issue with a colleague from the University of Helsinki.
Amy Allocco, associate professor of religious studies and director of the Multifaith Scholars Program, has been awarded a Collaborative International Research Grant (CIRG) from the American Academy of Religion (AAR). She applied for this grant along with Xenia Zeiler, associate professor of South Asian studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland, to support a joint project titled “Sweetening and Intensification: Processes and Currents Shaping Hindu Practices in Contemporary South Asia and its Diasporas.”
Their research project analyzes two converging and diverging currents associated with Hindu deities, beliefs and ritual practices in contemporary South Asian communities, namely “sweetening” and “intensification.” It examines the move to, on the one hand, standardize ritual practices, mellow divine personalities and mainstream theologies alongside efforts to, on the other, insist on the continuing relevance of more rigorous (frequently marginalized) religious practices and beliefs.
While we have historically seen and continue to witness movements to soften or mute the fiercer aspects of some Hindu gods’/goddesses’ representations, iconography and ritual practices, we also see contemporary assertions of these representations and practices as intrinsic and an insistence on continuing them. This project takes an inclusive approach as it brings these two threads – sweetening and intensification – into sustained conversation with the aim of enriching our collective scholarly understanding of the diverse ways that Hindu beliefs and practices are negotiated and contested in contemporary contexts.
The $5,000 grant will support short-term, joint fieldwork in South India this summer focused specifically on the relationship of these alternately competing and coexisting streams. It will also support Zeiler’s and Allocco’s participation at The 49th Annual Conference on South Asia in Madison, Wisconsin, in October 2020, where the two will present some of their findings in the context of a full-day symposium they are convening on this theme. The planned symposium will feature presentations on sweetening and intensification from a dozen scholars representing diverse methodologies, content expertise, and career stages. Allocco and Zeiler anticipate publishing select papers from the symposium in a special co-edited journal issue.
Zeiler’s research is situated at the intersection of digital media, religion and culture in India and the worldwide Indian community. Her research foci are digital Hinduism, global Hinduism, and Tantric traditions. She is author of a monograph on current transformations of Tantric traditions in India and on numerous articles and book chapters on mediatized and digital Hinduism, on Indian video games and cultural heritage, and on popular and festival culture in India and beyond. Her textual and field research on lesser-known Hindu Goddesses of North India complements Allocco’s work on South India’s Goddess traditions.
Zeiler presented a lecture titled “Contextualizing Tantric Traditions in Contemporary India: The Goddess Dhūmāvatī” at Elon in 2018, which is when the plans for their collaborative project took root. Zeiler then applied for a grant from the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Arts to bring Allocco to Finland in 2019 as a short-term visiting researcher to further their research collaboration. While there, Allocco presented an invited lecture, “Ritual Relationships with the Dead in South Indian Hinduism.” It was during this visit that the pair drafted their collaborative grant proposal, which they submitted to the AAR in October 2019.
The AAR’s CIRG initiative is intended to support generative research collaborations between and among scholars located in different geographical regions who wish to pursue focused, joint projects in any area of the study of religion. The pair will be honored at the AAR Annual Meeting in Boston in November 2020 for receiving the CIRG award.