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In the frame of the IATIO project, India and the Indian Ocean in the Early Decolonial Period: Archipelagic Imaginaries, 1950s-1970s, Dr Luca Raimondi, MSCA Global Fellow on the project, and Professor Ananya Jahanara Kabir, project PI, are organising a seminar on the theme of ‘Archipelagic Indias’.

In this talk, Dr. Calynn Dowler will present from her research on water in the Sundarbans delta of West Bengal, India. An ethnographer, Dowler’s research employs archival and ethnographic methods to understand shifting moral and political ecologies of water on a riverine island in the lower Bengal delta. Her presentation will explore the following question: how can engaging the category of “religion” enrich scholarly approaches to multispecies relations and more-than-human ecologies?

Her talk will draw on her research with Hindu, Muslim, and Christian fishers and farmers on a riverine island. In this religiously diverse setting, the waterscape is animated not only by engagements with nonhuman animals, plants, and elements, but also by a range of deities, ghosts, and spirits. The talk will consider shifting relationships with water beings held to inhabit local water bodies. While water beings were once active in the daily affairs of the village, today they are said to have vanished, fleeing water pollution and other harms enacted by humans.

The departure of water beings is experienced by many as an ethical problem, linked to a broader sense of moral decline associated with the transition from forest-based livelihoods and fishing to agrarian livelihoods and migration away from the Sundarbans. This work suggests that attention to religion and ideas about divine power can illuminate the importance of these changes in people’s everyday moral and ethical lives.

About the presenter

Dr Calynn Dowler

Calynn Dowler is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. Her research and teaching expertise lie at the intersection of religious studies and environmental anthropology. Her current book project explores ethical and religious relationships with water in the Sundarbans delta of West Bengal, India under conditions of socio-ecological transformation associated with migration, agrarian development, and climate change. Her research has been generously supported by fellowships from the Global Religion Research Initiative, Fulbright-Hays DDRA, and the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies.