Alani Price Offered Fulbright Scholarship to Study in Nepal
Alani Price, a senior religious studies major at Occidental College, has been offered a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to investigate post-birth purification rites in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal.
The Sagle, Idaho, resident and 2000 Sandpoint High School graduate will spend 10 months among the Newar ethnic group, with whom she will research the notion of “ritual pollution.” For many cultures in South Asia, birth causes pollution – or symbolic impurity – that requires a period of seclusion followed by a ceremonial cleansing of the mother and child.
Dale Wright, David B. and Mary H. Gamble Professor in Religion at Occidental, said Price is well suited to embark upon her Fulbright research. “Coming from a small town in Idaho, she seems to possess all the rural cultural skills to make sensitive connections to people in rural Nepal,” he said. “This prestigious award brings together all aspects of Alani’s work up to this point – a crowning achievement for one of our finest students.”
A Newar woman’s period of seclusion after birth represents a concern for the health of mother and child, protection from evil spirits during their time of vulnerability, and also an implementation of ancient Hindu traditions that identify birth as one of the most extreme causes for impurity. Price, whose major has an interdisciplinary concentration in anthropology, plans to study how socio-religious beliefs and practices work within the Hindu patriarchal tradition that from a health position may be problematic for women and babies in Nepal.
“The pollution either actively generated by women’s bodies or inactively caused by naturally impure processes during birth or menstruation is a highly charged socio-religious reality, one which women themselves must mediate,” Price said. “Purification rituals represent an important incidence of this mediation. I want to explore with a woma-focused framework the way in which Newar women are encountering their society’s rules about the polluted human body through their participation in rituals relating to birth and pre-adolescent girls.”
The purification women in a Newar family must perform after three days of seclusion involves the washing of mother and child, application of oil, and ritual cleansing of the entire extended family on the father’s side. On the same day, a “life-cycle” ritual – a sacred name-giving ceremony – is completed. Next in the sequence of life-cycle rituals is an inaugural rice-feeding in a baby’s first year. Later in childhood, a girl participates in a mock marriage to a deity and at first menstruation another purification ceremony is performed.
“My study in Nepal will focus on this sequence of early life-cycle rituals as they are perceived and practiced by the Hindu and Buddhist Newar women within the city of Patan and in its surrounding villages, and will further consider what these rituals mean to women’s religious roles,” Price said.
Price’s research, which starts in September, builds on an interest she developed last fall while enrolled in a Nepali language and culture study (Pitzer in Nepal) outside Kathmandu. Her senior comprehensive project – a graduation requirement at Occidental – will represent a year-long survey and analysis of published work on birth-related religious ritual in rural Nepal, Bangladesh and northern India.
Price ultimately wants to pursue a graduate degree in religion. She is the eighth Occidental student since 1992 to receive the Fulbright Scholarship. The award covers the cost of travel, education and living expenses. The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas.