|Ms. Eleanor Power is a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at Stanford University, where she studies the dynamics of human social groups, especially issues of cooperation, competition, and prestige. Her particular focus lies in using the theory and methods of human behavioral ecology, especially signaling theory, to investigate religious practice. For her dissertation research, she will be exploring the social consequences of public ritual practice in a village in Tamil Nadu, India. In addition to her ethnographic work in South India, Ms. Power is part of an interdisciplinary team of Stanford researchers looking at marine resource use on Tabuaeran atoll in Kiribati and a member of the Brown University Petra Great Temple excavation in Jordan. She grew up in Belmont, Massachusetts, received her B.A. from Brown University and an M.Sc. from University College London.
Ms. Power's Fulbright-Nehru research project is titled as "Parading the Urmakkal: Public Ritual Practice in Tamil Nadu." Her project is a study of public rituals in a Tamil village, evaluating the individual- and group-level consequences of their enactment. Public rituals entail clear costs: devotees carry firepots, pierce their skin with hooks and spears, and contort their bodies when possessed by a deity. With such costs, what motivates people to carry out acts of devotion? Individuals may do so because it builds social capital. Devotees distinguish themselves through ritual performance, gaining reputation (perumai) and fostering interpersonal bonds with co-participants. Through her research Ms. Power plans to evaluate these claims using a combination of quantitative data collection, social network analysis, and participant observation.