Ph.D. Candidate, Religion
2016-2017 Tedder Family Doctoral Fellowship
Bhakti Mamtora received a Tedder Family Doctoral Fellowship to travel to Gujarat, India for archival and ethnographic fieldwork for her dissertation, “The Making of a Modern Scripture: The History of a Book from 19th-century Gujarat.” Her project analyzes the process of transforming oral narrative and culture into a sacred text by focusing on the Svāmīnī Vāto, a Gujarati sacred text.
Mamtora’s work, through both ethnographic and archival research, considers the ways in which sermons emerge and become revered as sacred texts in Western India. It takes the Swaminarayan Sampraday, a Hindu devotional tradition founded in Western India at the turn of the 19th-century, as a case study to examine the genesis, history, and reception of scripture in Hindu traditions. Mamtora studied glosses of the text and completed fieldwork at temples in order to explain the background or the literary context within which this genre and text emerged, and how sermons become sacred texts and influence the trajectory of religious traditions. She also examined the ways in which devotees of the Swaminarayan Sampraday practice and institutionalize these oral traditions, including through mobile phone apps, printed sermons, and other forms of written/digital culture.
Mamtora argues that without an adequate analysis of pretextual life, or the remnants of the processes by which oral teachings became text, we undervalue the social, cultural, and historical fields within which sacred texts emerged and influenced the development of religious traditions. Her project fills an existing gap in textual studies between work that focuses on historical significance and work studying present-day interpretations. This method allows her to access aspects of the text that are lost in other approaches and uncovers the pretextual and life of the texts as they are lived by religious adherents.