Bhakti Mamtora reflects on fieldwork experience in ‘Fieldwork in Religion’

Religious Studies and South Asian studies professor makes a case for intellectual humility

December 10, 2020   /  
Bhakti Mamtora, assistant professor of religious and South Asian Studies
Bhakti Mamtora, assistant professor of religious and South Asian Studies

Bhakti Mamtora, assistant professor of Religious Studies and South Asian Studies at The College of Wooster, published an article that draws from her fieldwork experience in India titled “At Home Camping on Shifting Sands”: Lessons in Humility from Between Worlds in the November issue of Fieldwork in Religion. The article, which Mamtora describes as an “autoethnography,” uses personal narrative to argue that intellectual humility is essential to fieldwork in religion. “Humility in the academy entails an open-mindedness to theorize about the field from within the field,” Mamtora writes in the article’s abstract. “By practicing intellectual humility, one can begin to bridge the boundaries of home and field, self and other, and become attentive to new directions in academic research.”

The article is part of a special double issue of Fieldwork in Religion with the theme “Shifting Sites, Shifting Selves: The Intersections of Homes and Fields in the Ethnography of India.” Editors Amy Allocco (Elon University) and Jennifer Ortegren (Middlebury College), write in the introduction that all of the contributors are scholars who have done ethnographic research in India and are interested in the relationship between ‘home’ and ‘the field.’

To write “At Home Camping on Shifting Sands,” Mamtora drew from her own experiences doing fieldwork in India in 2017 on a Fulbright fellowship for her Ph.D. dissertation. “I learned many lessons while conducting fieldwork and the one that has left a lasting impact on me was humility,” she said. In the article, Mamtora defines what she means by humility in fieldwork. “Humility with ourselves consists of practicing self-reflexivity and understanding our position and its connection to the field. Humility with our interlocutors requires listening to their voices and accepting that fieldwork is dictated by things that happen on the ground and not our neatly conceived plans,” she writes. Mamtora’s perspective makes a “methodological contribution” by elaborating on how the cultivation and practice of humility can strengthen one’s research.

Mamtora conducted her fieldwork in Gujarat, India, where she studied sacred texts. “My research interests include book history and print culture, religious subjectivity, and community formation in nineteenth century Gujarat,” she said. Her work “examines the genesis and reception of oral, textual, and digital editions of the Swamini Vato, a collection of oral teachings delivered by Gunatitanand Swami (1784-1867) in the Swaminarayan Sampraday,” a Hindu religious tradition. Mamtora plans to continue to practice the intellectual humility she advocates for in “At Home Camping on Shifting Sands” in her research writing.