Tulasi Srinivas will spend the next academic year exploring the “anthropology of wonder” as the recipient of a Radcliffe Fellowship, the first faculty member to win the prestigious fellowship while at the College.
Srinivas, associate professor in the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, will work on a project called “Worlds of Wonder: Ritual Creativity and Ethical Life in India” during her yearlong fellowship. The project investigates the nature of wonder and how it can help people live a more creative life.
“I am honored and delighted to be a Radcliffe fellow for the 2016–17 year,” Srinivas wrote in an email. “I am honored to be a fellow at this Institute for Advanced Study not only because it is wonderfully competitive—less than 4% of applicants get this fellowship—but that the fellowship is international and includes all disciplines. Cosmologists share the fellowship with anthropologists, and Palestinians talk with Israelis.
“Such a fellowship affords the luxury of intensive focus on reading and writing—the basis of our work as scholars and teachers, what we call the wonder of wisdom—and it leads to unlikely collaborations and trans-disciplinary conversations, which I look forward to most of all.”
Each year, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University awards each fellow the funding, time, and physical space for a year of focused work, while providing access to Harvard’s facilities and undergraduates, who work as research partners, according to a press release from the Radcliffe Institute.
“Next year’s fellowship class has an amazing reach and diversity, both topically and geographically,” said Radcliffe Institute Dean Lizabeth Cohen in the release. “They are coming from six continents to study subjects ranging from black holes and depictions of the heavens in Chinese art to fossils embedded in the ocean floor and the relationship between fracking and earthquakes. These Radcliffe fellows will literally be exploring heaven and earth at Radcliffe, revealing that there is something new under the sun, after all.”
Srinivas said she hopes her project, “Worlds of Wonder,” will consist of two books on Bangalore, India. The first book, which is underway, is The Cow in the Elevator: Explorations in an Anthropology of Wonder.
The title of the book comes from an incident Srinivas encountered in Bangalore. She ran across one of her favorite Hindu priests trying to shove a cow into the mirrored elevator of a luxury high-rise building.
It’s traditional in Indian agrarian culture to bless a new home by bringing in a cow to walk over every threshold in the house, Srinivas said. But Bangalore, called the “Silicon Valley of Asia,” is changing rapidly.
“It was fine when Bangalore was a city of low-lying bungalows, but as capitalism reached Bangalore and you get these skyscrapers with fancy elevators, the question became ‘How do you bless this house?’” Srinivas said.
The priest ended up getting the cow into a service elevator and bringing her up.
Srinivas said to a Western, modern eye, it would seem bizarre to force livestock into a space that seems so far removed from the earth and the culture that created the ritual and the sense of “wonder” that surrounds it.
But Hinduism is a religion based on practice, and as such, is much better able to adapt to modern society. Hindus “create conditions” in which to feel wonder.
“Rather than you being struck by wonder, here I’m saying it’s very deliberative,” she said.
The other book Srinivas said she wants to write is about urban life and the environment in Bangalore. It’s tentatively titled Wasteland.
Srinivas said she is “deeply grateful” to Amy Ansell, dean of the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, and Eric Asetta, executive director of the Office of Research and Creative Scholarship, as well as Chief Academic Officer Michaele Whelan and President Lee Pelton for their “generous support”.
Srinivas was last year's recipient of the Helaine and Stanley Miller Award for Outstanding Teaching.