Lauren Meeker, associate professor of anthropology at SUNY New Paltz, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) award of nearly $47,000 to undertake an ethnographic study of the relationship between social belonging and moral personhood in a rural village community in Vietnam.
Meeker will spend three months abroad during the spring ’16 semester, during which time she will observe and partake in annual village festivals and work alongside Vietnamese practitioners of Buddhist rituals that play an important role in establishing the moral identities of the individual villagers and the society as a whole.
Identity and performance become intertwined in these traditional ceremonies, Meeker explained, because the medium and other participants are often channeling or manifesting the personality of a religious deity or an ancestor.
“The people of this village exist in a number of different religious and moral contexts at the same time, and I want to consider how that manifests in ritual and performance,” Meeker said.
This study will involve not only more common anthropological data collection methods like participant observation and interview, but also Meeker’s own unique use of film to prompt and record interaction with her hosts.
“I see the use of film in two ways,” Meeker said. “First, it’s an ethnographic product that can be used to share the information I gather. But it also has the effect of changing the way I see, experience and tend to what’s going on. It forces a higher degree of ethical engagement and a particular type of relationship with the people I’m trying to learn about.”
Meeker used video in an earlier study of the life and activities of a Vietnamese folk singer. “Singing Sentiment,” the product of that research, was screened at venues including the New York Conference on Asian Studies and the Vietnamese Academy of Social Science.
Meeker makes regular use of these types of fieldwork experiences to illuminate and exemplify lessons in the courses she teaches at New Paltz.
“One of my favorite things about teaching is when you bring back your own material and give that to your students,” Meeker said. “When I taught my Anthropology of Vietnam course, for instance, I was able to do a whole section on religion that they didn’t have any readings on, because it was all based on data I had brought back. I find that the students like that, because it seems real in a way that readings sometimes don’t.”
More information about funding opportunities for faculty research is available through the Office of Sponsored Programs.