Two Wesleyan students are the recipients of the Friends of the Wesleyan Library’s third annual Undergraduate Research Prize.
Emma Leuchten ’19, an anthropology and religion double major, received the first place prize for her senior essay, “Anthropology Beyond Belief: Navigating Dreams and Reality in the Burmese Weikza Tradition.” Leuchten based the paper on fieldwork she conducted in Myanmar during a semester abroad. Her advisor was Elizabeth Traube, professor of anthropology.
The essay explores quests for power and knowledge in a contemporary Burmese wizardry tradition. Drawing from personal interviews with weikza (wizard-saints), devotees, and skeptics, Leuchten examines the tensions that have arisen between this tradition and orthodox Buddhist institutions in the post-colonial religious and political landscapes of Myanmar.
“I write against the anthropological impulse to study the symbolic or cultural value of religious figures and experiences—the tendency to explain ‘what’s really going on’ beneath a spiritual event,” Leuchten said. “Beginning with the premise that what I’m studying is real, I propose that a rigorous but open exploration of alternate ontologies can work to destabilize the dominant ontological assumptions that sociocultural discourse takes for granted.”
Isaac Klimasmith ’20, a biology major, received the second place prize for his essay, “Waters in the Wilderness and Rivers in the Desert: Irrigation Myths in the History of Early Mormon Agriculture.” Klimasmith wrote this paper while taking the class ENVS 307: The Economy of Nature and Nations, taught by Paul Erickson, associate professor of history; associate professor, environmental studies.