Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Wesleyan University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2000
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Santa Cruz
Assisted Reproduction through Spirit Possession: The Gendered Politics and Embodiment of in/fertility in Modernizing South India

I propose to conduct an ethnography of Pandi Koyil, a vibrant non-Brahmin temple on the outskirts of Madurai, Tamilnadu, that is rising in popularity because of the reputed powers of its presiding male deity to cure women's infertility. The cure happens in the traditional idiom of a possession by the God, who "marries" the afflicted women, expelling the evil spirits or ghosts (pey) that are thought responsible for her infertility. Because the "wives" of Pandi, as they are called, are also the wives of normal men, their conceiving-through-the-idiom-of-possession can be understood as a practice of assisted reproduction. On the one hand, I will examine the politics of infertility at Pandi Koyil in terms of ethno-sociological notions of embodiment, reproduction, gender, and identity, paying close attention to issues of cultural translability. On the other hand, I will situate this practice in the larger context of the modernizing South and its colonial history, identifying competing discourses of reproduction (State, Christian, medical) as they intersect with class and caste, and Pandi's wives' self-understandings. For the flourishing popularity of the temple, which is now being engulfed by a suburb of Madurai, must be understood in terms of the shifting balance of culture and power in the region, evident in wide-spread Hindu revivalism. My project will investigate the gendered aspects of this revivalism as it is experienced by women and expressed through this practice of assisted reproduction.