Beginning June 2, 2018 and ending June 30, 2018, I participated in a Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad to India. As a participant, I traveled along with several other faculty and student teachers from Metropolitan State University of Denver to various parts of India (i.e., Delhi, Amritsar, Agra, Pondicherry, and Chennai) in an effort to learn more about “State and Society” in India. My particular project, however, was to learn about gender, sexuality, and mind/body dualisms in India. Specifically, I proposed the following project:
- My individual project in India will focus on philosophies of the body and how these relate to spiritual and social practices (e.g., presentations of self in Bollywood film), as well as the impact these philosophies (and colonization) have on contemporary notions of gender and sexuality in India. My pre-departure research will consist mostly of identifying the work that has been accomplished around mind/body dualisms and how these are challenged within India philosophies of being. According to Delela (2015), “In Indian philosophy, matter itself transforms into spirit and how this transformation occurs poses a serious problem” for Western notions of mind/body dualism. If, as is suggested in Indian philosophy, mind and body are both material and spiritual, then one might also have to conclude that other dualisms (e.g., man/woman, masculine/feminine) are also intimately linked, allowing for the hijra to emerge as the “purest” representation of the non-dualistic nature of being. If, however, as is suggested by Radhakrishnan (2009), Indian mind/body dualism is merely different from Western conceptualizations of such, then we might expect to see a great deal of similarity between how the hijra are understood in India and trans women/men are understood in the US (especially given the influence of colonial ideology in India).
- To gain a better understanding of Indian philosophies of the body, I propose to visit with faculty within the field of sex/gender studies in India and practitioners who work with the hijra of India (e.g., India Volunteer Care, Humsafar Trust, South India Positive Network). I will be doing intensive study of Indian customs and practices, as each will reflect philosophies of the body and embodiment. For instance, religious practices often reflect specific notions about the body and soul; reincarnation allows for the soul to return to another body (human or otherwise). Representations of self in the media are also culturally inscribed. And, in 2014 the Indian Supreme Court officially recognized the hijra as a third gender, at least theoretically also recognizing the limitations of a binary system.
In order to accomplish the goals I set forth above, I decided that creating a journal of my experiences in India would be one of the best ways to reflect on the information learned during lectures and presentations by faculty, government officials, and other experts on Indian history, politics, geography, economics, society, religion, contemporary issues, and U.S.-Indian relations, as well as excursions to historical sites, monuments, museums, educational institutions, religious centers, and cultural centers.
Autoethnography is a qualitative research methods that allows for self-reflection and critical analysis. In this example, I utilize autoethnography to better understand my own embodiment in the context of the month abroad in India. This journal serves as an example for GWS 3230 Bodies and Embodiment students, who are also required to create an autoethnographic reflection of their bodily experiences throughout a semester. The goal here is to help students make connections between the articles they are reading and their own experiences of having and being an embodied individual.