Dor Bahadur Bista Awards

2019 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize Winner

The winner of the 2019 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize is Stefan Lüder, a PhD candidate at the Institute for Asian and African Studies at Humboldt University, Berlin. Lüder’s paper, “Beyond the ‘Historical Island’: Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh and Himalayan Humanism in the Early 20th Century,” explores the life and work of the now-forgotten Himalayan intellectual, Jaya Prithvi Bahdur Singh, and demonstrates his presence at the European centers of humanistic debate and advocacy on the post-WWI world stage. In so doing, the paper makes a significant contribution to Himalayan Studies while simultaneously demonstrating the relevance of Himalayan actors and agencies to Global History and scholarship beyond national and regional boundaries.

Lüder’s paper was one of five strong submissions that the committee considered this year. The applicants represented four different disciplines (Anthropology, Asian and African Area Studies, Development Studies, and History), and are enrolled at universities in Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Stefan Lüder’s Abstract:
A natural, almost insurmountable border between the Tibetan plateau and the subcontinent of South Asia, to this day the Himalayan region is perceived as isolated and remote. In academic debates the region is always finds itself at the periphery of discursively defined sub-divisions of Asia, i.e. between South Asia, Southeast Asia and Central Asia. Meanwhile, historiography and historical research in the Himalaya remains largely within national narratives, thereby, largely ignoring historical interconnections, entanglements and interdependencies transcending imagined – and often politically motivated – regional and national boundaries. As a result, paraphrasing Michael A. Bernardo’s (2011) assessment, the Himalaya continues to be understood as a historical island surrounded by a sea of historical activity. In an attempt to address this historiographical desiderate, my paper follows the life and works of a Himalayan intellectual by the name Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh. Today, Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh as well as most of his work and ideas are almost completely forgotten in Himalayan historiography while scholars of Global History have never heard of him. To counter this phenomenon, my paper seeks to address the following research questions: Who was Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh and why is his life and work relevant to dismantle hegemonic national narratives of the past in Asia? I propose the hypothesis that Jaya Prithvi’s specific way of thinking about humanity constitutes a philosophical approach in its own right, which I will, therefore, coin Himalayan Humanism. Moreover, I will argue that the exploration and analysis Jaya Prithvi’s life and work has great potential to contribute to overcome the insular perspective and perception of Himalayan history and historiography, render translocal, transregional and even global historical entanglements of the region with the rest of the world visible and, finally, enrich broader issues and debates that animate scholarship beyond Asia, e.g. Global Intellectual History.

 The Dor Bahadur Bista Prize is awarded annually to a paper authored by a current graduate student in any of the academic disciplines in the social sciences, humanities, and arts. The prize honors the life, career, and service of Dor Bahadur Bista, Nepal’s first anthropologist and former Honorary President of the ANHS predecessor organization, the Nepal Studies Association (NSA). The purpose of the Prize is to recognize outstanding scholarship by students whose research focuses on the areas of High Asia (Hindu Kush – Karakoram – Himalaya – Tibetan Plateau) that comprise the principal interests of ANHS.

2018 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize Winner

The winner of the 2018 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize for Best Graduate Student Paper is Pearly Wong, for her paper titled, “A Missed Opportunity for Transformation? – An Analysis of Official Climate Change Discourse and Adaptation Strategy in Nepal.” Pearly is a student in a joint PhD program in the Department of Anthropology and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This year’s competition had three strong submissions from three different countries (the US, Canada, and Germany) and three different disciplines (Anthropology, Language & Literary Education, and South Asian Studies).

Pearly Wong’s Abstract:
Despite the highly political process of international climate change negotiations, most efforts in climate change adaptation assume an apolitical, technical policy process (Tanner and Alloche, 2011). The paper examines the different climate justice discourses as well as critical approaches to climate change adaptation, followed by a case study of Nepal, to examine their translation into its national and sub-national policy framework. I conducted qualitative analysis on eight major climate-change related documents by the country, chosen based on availability online, language, and their broader scope of applicability. The result shows that Nepal has adhered to the ‘vulnerability’ and ‘transition’ discourses, which serve as important tools to advocate for support from the international climate change regime. Driven primarily by international processes and guidelines, the climate change policies and documents in Nepal project a heavily technocratic approach with little socio-cultural considerations. Vulnerability is understood as a static property and assessed based on sectors and geographic area, while adaptation is understood as series of actions to be implemented. Overall, the policies demonstrate an apparent lack of political ecology and anthropological perspectives, with the risk of perpetuating the existing systemic ills, as well as impeding imaginaries to pursue more radical socio-political and cultural change as effective adaptation measures.
Keywords: Nepal, climate justice, adaptation, climate change policy, vulnerability

2017 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize Winner

The winner of the 2017 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize for best graduate student paper is Samuele Poletti, for his paper titled, “Horoscopic knowledge and existential narratives: Predetermination and freedom in the Sinja Valley of Jumla District, Nepal”. Samuele is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. This year’s competition yielded five strong papers in five different fields (Social Sciences, Linguistic Anthropology, Social Anthropology, Developmental Studies, and, for the first time as far as we know, Art History), and came from near and far (1 US, 1 Canada, 1 India, and 2 Europe).

Samuele Poletti’s Abstract:
Nepalese people are rarely satisfied by pure coincidence, and astrological divination aims precisely at providing access to the “hidden motifs” attained to determine life events. This brings to the fore a rough account of someone’s future personality, along with the major events that will characterise that particular life. Moreover, it expands the individual drama by assuring the existence of a cosmological design behind the apparently random unfolding of existence. Hindu astrology appears therefore as a form sense-making, taming the wilderness of the world and the irreducibility of the experience in it by providing existential narratives. Conveying yet a beacon of hope to act upon what is initially approached as a hopeless fate, astrological divination forwards the perception that troubling events apparently out of control are liable not only to be endured but also to be acted upon, revealing thus a permanent tension between “determinism” and “freedom”. From an existential perspective, this is a form of resistance against the simple unfolding of life, which here takes the form of an attempt to gain partial control upon the obscure machinations of fate. In light of that, an absolutistic rendering of fatalism in Nepal will not do justice to its people, for, at a closer look, few are those who entirely surrender to their fate. Consequently, divinatory practices may be seen as a sort of “freedom in disguise”.



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