Religion through the Looking Glass

Fieldwork, Biography, and Authorship in Southwest China and Beyond

in Religion and Society
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  • 1 King’s College London katherine.swancutt@kcl.ac.uk
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ABSTRACT

This article is an exploration into how a distinct fascination with the study of religion traverses the biographies of researchers who, through fieldwork, episodically enter into the life-worlds of the peoples they study. In it, I offer up ethnographic and auto-ethnographic reflections on the experiential crossroads and personal biographies that are perhaps as constitutive of religion as they are of the persons who study it. Through a discussion of interconnected events that arose during and outside of my anthropological fieldwork among the Nuosu, a Tibeto-Burman group of Southwest China, I highlight how Nuosu claims to authoring my biography have brought their animistic religion and culture, as well as its international import, further into focus for myself, local scholars, and rural Nuosu persons. My argument pivots around the idea that fieldwork-based researchers and their interlocutors often appropriate each other’s biographies in rather cosmic ways, thus revealing the historically, socially, and personally contingent qualities that are involved in studies of religion.

Contributor Notes

KATHERINE SWANCUTT is a Lecturer in the Anthropology of Religion at King’s College London. She conducts research across Inner Asia, with a particular focus on animism and shamanism in Southwest China and Mongolia. Her publications include Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination (2012) and a special guest-edited issue of Social Analysis, titled “Animism Beyond the Soul: Ontology, Reflexivity, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge” (2016). Some of her newest research interests are dreams, fame, aesthetics, the imagination, and slavery; katherine.swancutt@kcl.ac.uk.

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