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This page contains images -- video clips and photographs -- gathered during the course of fieldwork. Brief captions describe their significance. Clicking a photo enlarges it. Clicking a video plays it.

Buddhist statues

Broken statues of the Buddha

Broken statues returned to a local village temple on the outskirts of Colombo (Sri Lanka). Devotees keep Buddha statues in their homes, but high up out of reach, and often still sealed in plastic. When statues venerated in homes become damaged, their owners worry about how to dispose of them, and often deposit them on Buddhist temple (pansala) grounds. Like relics of the Buddha, the broken Buddha statues are thought to be incorporated into the mortar of newly constructed stupas

--Luke Fleming

I'm not there

This visual essay grapples with the question: What do the circumstances of our ethnographic writing share with the environments we write about? In lieu of verbal commentary, I juxtapose audio and still images from my fieldwork in Hyderabad with a video montage of my everyday life in Philadelphia. The film highlights the role of my own subjectivity and environment in the writing of ethnographic stories as academic artifacts, while also evoking parallels of human striving and suffering which go beyond the First/Third World divide.

--Directed by Indivar Jonnalagadda, Philadelphia PA, March 2021


Bodhi tree

Bodhi tree at the massive temple complex at Mahiyangana (Sri Lanka). Old or damaged Buddha statues have been deposited at the tree, and an old monk's robe (sivuru) has been tied around one of the branches. Emergent semiotic practices like these iconically suture together disparate elements of the triple gem (the Buddha, his teachings or dharma, and his monastic community or sangha). Bodhi trees are genealogical descendants of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, and are considered to be 'relics of use' of the Buddha.

--Luke Fleming

Learning how to heal others

A traditional Kyrgyz healer, or emchi, describes how she learned the craft of healing and the types of health problems she has treated. Her use of evidentials indexically differentiates distinct personae: For practices she had just learned from her mother when young, she marks herself as a non-participant through the use of indirect evidentials, formulating herself as a new-learner of the craft that she was then using. For ailments long familiar to her now, she uses direct evidentials to indexically formulate herself as knowledgeable about the forms of diagnosis and healing involved. These discursive shifts track thresholds of skill and forms of expertise within healing encounters.

--Ferhan Tunagur


Moral pedagogy Thangka

Thangka paintings usually depict Buddhist deities or mandalas, but this Thangka (from Amdo, Tibet) depicts an array of Tibetan words from which moral maxims are composed in pedagogic settings. In a manner akin to cross-word puzzles, the words can be combined vertically or horizontally to form larger expressions that are believed to have moral import.

--Xiao Ke

Women passing bricks

Women who have come on pilgrimage to the historical religious center of Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka) participate in the reconstruction of the massive third century Jetavanaramaya stupa. The activity will help them accrue 'merit' (pin) to be put towards an auspicious rebirth. The chain-like passing of bricks ensures that each participant touches—and thus accrues merit from—the objects that are telically dedicated to the refurbished stupa, even as it coordinates their joint labor.

--Luke Fleming


The attributes of horses

Abılas Aake, a Kyrgyz horse trainer and a former athlete in the traditional sport of ulak, describes the suitability of this horse for ulak by recounting how each of the horse's attributes fits particular tasks within the sport, and by marking his own attributive utterances with evidentials. When he describes specific attributes—as when he says that the horse’s hips and abdomen should be sufficiently broad that he is not pushed around by others during the game—his narrative locates the horse’s attributes in relation to ulak practices, while his use of evidentials locates his own ability to discern a horse’s attributes as emblematic of expertise in ulak and horse training.

--Ferhan Tunagur

Mother and daughter at temple

Mother and daughter reciting sayings of the Buddha at a temple in Galle (Sri Lanka). Uttering the words of the Buddha is a way of fostering right-intentions. Shadows are cast by the leaves of the Bodhi tree. Shoes must be removed before entering the sandy area (or maluwa) which surrounds the Bodhi tree.

--Luke Fleming


Disciplinary theatrics

As Tibetan debate unfolds in a monastic courtyard, the sequence of logically linked premises and conclusions is accompanied by deafening noise and raucous gestures, including hand-clapping provocations performed by challengers. The denotational content of debate is nested within interactional performances of demeanor indexicality, through which debaters chiastically move from consensus to dissensus and back, recapitulating the conditions through which competing opinions are ritually merged within unified tradition. For additional details, see: Lempert, Michael. 2005. Denotational textuality and demeanor indexicality in Tibetan Buddhist debate. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 15 (2): 171-193.

Anime fan culture

Artifacts associated with the Japanese anime industry enable fans to produce their own installations and arrangements. The red drink represents an anime character and the doll is another character from the same anime. The fan who placed the drink and the doll together in this way believes that the two characters are in love.

--Hei-won Byun


Intimate hierachies

An encounter between a traditional Senegalese healer, or sérīñ, and a patient seeking medical treatment. The encounter begins with the brief clip shown here, the initial greeting, in which bonds of sociability are established as a prelude to the diagnosis and dispensation of medicine, which follow. The multimodal texture of signs that unfolds during this encounter establishes a delicate balance of intimacy and asymmetry between patient and healer, while making manifest the capacity of sacred powers to consecrate rosaries, activate medicine, and protect patients. For additional details, see: Perrino, Sabina. 2002. Intimate hierarchies and Qur’anic Saliva (Tëfli): Textuality in a Senegalese ethnomedical encounter. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 12 (2): 225-259.

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