Austin is an M.A. student in the Department for the Study of Religion researching the various spirit possession traditions in the Kathmandu Valley (Nepal). His academic interests also include method and theory, children and religion, and Buddhist birth and embryological narratives. He received his B.A. Honours from McGill University in 2018, where he studied Asian religions and South Asian studies. He also spent a year studying the Rangjung Yeshe Institute (RYI). At RYI, he did some preliminary ethnographic work on Swayambhu hill with the local Harati dyaḥ māju, a woman who becomes possessed by a deity and then performs positive actions such as ritual healings, and divinations.
His current research seeks to situate the dyaḥ māju and their practices in the wider socio-ethnic world and discourses of Nepal. This project will seek to demonstrate how female mediumship disrupts and rearranges established gender and power dynamics, but also how mediums recreate and repurpose these hierarchical systems in a ritualized setting. In addition to ethnography, he will be employing a methodology inspired by the phenomenology of religion, rooted in personal subjective engagement, that does not compromise the objective treatment of ‘social formations,’ yet also mediates religious phenomena ‘religiously’. He will acknowledge Harati as an agent in the healing and ritual space in order to de-centre the human and raise new questions surrounding the category of “experience”.
Read Austin’s co-authored story of our centre’s visit from Professor Naresh Man Bajracharya, a scholar and practitioner of Newar Buddhism, who joined us for a workshop on Newar Buddhist texts: https://buddhiststudies.utoronto.ca/2018/11/09/naresh-man-bajracharya/