This innovative Author-meets-Critics roundtable considers the idea of wonder in religious life in South Asia pivoting from a new book by Tulasi Srinivas titled, The Cow in the Elevator: An Anthropology of Wonder (Duke University Press, 2018)
In this book, Srinivas explores a wonderful world where deities jump fences and priests ride in helicopters to present a joyful, imaginative, yet critical reading of modern religious life. Drawing on nearly two decades of fieldwork with priests, residents, and devotees, and her own experience of living in the high-tech city of Bangalore, Srinivas finds moments where ritual enmeshes with global modernity to create wonder—a feeling of amazement at being overcome by the unexpected and sublime. Offering a nuanced account of how the ruptures of modernity can be made normal, enrapturing, and even comical in a city swept up in globalization's tumult, Srinivas brings the visceral richness of wonder—apparent in creative and disruptive ritual in and around Hindu temples—into the anthropological gaze. Broaching provocative philosophical themes like desire, complicity, loss, time, money, technology, and the imagination, Srinivas pursues an interrogation of wonder to decode its anatomy.
The roundtable will consider wonder as a theological trope to analyze contemporrary religious life in and of South Asia. The panel is interdisciplinary drawing from art history, anthropology, architecture, history, religious studies, and urban studies. Each panelist will begin with a critique of Srinivas' work to open a discussion on the place of wonder in their research on subjects as varied as ritual life ecology and politics in Nepal (Mocko), perspecives on Prasadam or consecrated food (Pinkney), women gurus and their global following (Lucia), and the aesthetics of Swaminarayan portraiture (Pcckert) and Christian Missionaries and urban place making (Hancock). Srinivas will respond to the panel critique to explore further the anatomy , logics and technologies of wonder. The roundtable participants will follow with a discussion on wonder as a frame to interrogate religion and broaden its study in South Asia.