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”.