Theorizations

Burma-Unknown-movie-still-BIG_web

Film still from an unidentified Burmese movie, undated. (Archive: C. Emmrich.)

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Hoarding advertising the Nepalese industrial trading company Panchakanya Group, Lalitpur, Dec. 2008. (Photo: C. Emmrich.)

The theoretical framework for the questions and objectives of the project draws from Ritual Studies, Children Studies and Gender Studies. More recent contributions in Children Studies foreground children’s agency and critique the “reportorial frameworks” which help turn children into “others”, as described by Caroline Bledsoe, by viewing them, as has been elaborated by Helen Schwartzman, as deficient and whose deficiency derives from a passivity they only lose once they have developed into adults. There are in fact analogies between the former perception of ritual and women on the one hand and that of children and girl children on the other, both being supposedly “passive, imitative, conservative”. As rituals have undergone a re-evaluation in terms of the agency they impart, their adaptability and self-reflexivity, so too shall this project be a contribution to understanding how girl children experience, accept, resist and transmute the influence of both peers and adults, how they yield their own power and how they conceptualize themselves in these roles and constantly reinvent themselves anew. This re-evaluation is particularly important when developing models to describe girl children’s religiosity at various age levels.

Along the lines of re-reading female religious practice as continuous and re-affirmative processes, this project will move further in this direction by showing that religious practices for girl children and women designed as “initiations”, “marriages” or “ordinations” are not watershed-like events separating childhood from adulthood, but rather multiple occasions that can stretch from early childhood all the way up into and beyond ritual performances of partnership. This project intends to contribute to a more nuanced formulation of degrees of seniority and a de-dramatization of the ritual narrative as well as a more consciously gender- and age-specific theory of ritual.