Sept. 7, 2023

From Texts to Local Tradition: A Study of Sthalapurāṇas in Konkan

Durga Kale's PhD thesis focuses on medieval and modern narratives from the West Coast of India, the region known as Konkan.
Durga Kale

Congratulations to Durga Kale for successfully defending her PhD thesis, " From Texts to Local Tradition: A Study of Sthalapurāṇas in Konkan” on August 14, 2023. Her committee members were Dr. Christopher George Framarin, Dr. Wendi Adamek, Dr. Harjeet Grewal, Dr. Pallavi Banerjee, and Dr. Anne Feldhaus (External Examiner).

We asked Durga to provide us with some insight into her thesis and her graduate studies experience in the Department of Classics and Religion at the University of Calgary.

Tell us about your thesis topic.

My PhD thesis focuses on medieval (c. 1200-1600 CE) and modern narratives from the West Coast of India, the region known as Konkan. These narratives from the religious texts in the region, known as Purāṇas, seem to extend a claim on the landscape. On one hand, the coastal landscape is deemed to be sacred because of the origin story of a mythic hero Paraśurāma creating the new land. With this origin story, a body of socio-religious narratives emerged in the area at least since the medieval period. These narratives and the religious observances in the area make way for a local tradition to emerge. I map the vicissitudes of this local Konkani tradition in my thesis. My project employs a study of medieval and modern literature, cursory surveys of the actual land in discussion, and ethnographic interviews that I collected during my field-visits. On the whole, the project will be of interest to sociologists and anthropologists of religion. Some of the theoretical discussions such as claim on physical landscape through religious narratives will provide a future direction to investigate the relationship between humans and landscape across various cultures.

What was the most valuable outcome of the Graduate program for you?

My short answer would be that the program allowed me to explore various areas within higher education. The opportunity to take courses within the Department of Classics and Religion (CLARE) and to audit courses from other departments enabled me to work through my project with a truly “cross-disciplinary” lens. The seminar-style course on Professionalization for Graduate students, in particular, was my workshop to test presentation skills that supplemented my skillset as a researcher.

The Graduate program offered other opportunities such as accessing and working on the collection at the Kawamura Memorial Library at CLARE. Other on-campus avenues, such as the Calgary Institute for Humanities (CIH) and the Nickle Galleries, are highlights in my tenure as a Graduate student. I was able to put together a working group at the CIH with my fellow Graduate students in 2018, and we went on to co-curate a Numismatics Exhibition at the Nickle Galleries in 2019.

My post-Candidacy experience of teaching Undergraduate courses as an instructor have been a valuable outcome of my Graduate program. My pedagogical practice is informed by the discussions in the courses that I took as a Graduate student. Some of the effective strategies for communication in a diverse classroom including the course-development of Religious Studies courses to facilitate inter-faith discussions are a product of my Graduate course-work at CLARE.

Finally, a supportive cohort of fellow PhD students and professors helped me to expand my professional network within and outside University of Calgary. This synergy is undoubtedly the most valuable outcome for me. 

What are the next steps/plans for you?

In terms of larger professional goals, I aim for a position that brings together research and advising. For the next year, I will continue to work with the universities in Canada in the capacity of an instructor and develop courses with an Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Advocacy and Justice (EDIAJ) lens. This overall vision also involves intentional inclusion of diverse research and voices in the course curriculum.

I feel the most fulfilled in areas where I can liaise between academic research and non-specialized audiences. With this view, I started a podcast in 2020 that demystifies academic research in the fields of Social Sciences and Humanities. In addition, I continue to advise on EDIAJ for medium to large organizations. My recent collaboration with Focillon, a France-based NGO, is shaping up in the form of restructuring their activities in the areas of Humanities research with an EDIAJ approach.