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“Sharing Ontological-Metaphors”: Meanings, Expressive Agency, Lived- Realities, and States-of-Being, in Uttarakhand, North India.



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Hall, Victoria 


PhD Abstract: This project explores principles of “meaning” and “the meaningful” as active and embodied “gestures” or “lived-realities”, via concepts of “sharing” and communicative relationality. These concepts were ethnographically researched in the far northern, religiously-plural Indian state of Uttarakhand. This is a state with faith-based populations variously self-identifying as Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, or Muslim. I met members of all of these faiths regularly, although my interlocutors were predominantly Christian and Hindu. Formerly a region of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand is known for its close proximity to the Himalaya, the Indian borders with Tibet and Nepal, and for its religious sanctity as an area of devout (usually Hindu) pilgrimage. All of these diverse factors have led to the consistent and complex intermingling of a number of sub-communities and regional populations. This was evident within many of the larger towns, such as Mussoorie, found in the Garhwal district of Uttarakhand, and the central-base for my fieldwork. My methodology was ethnographic and qualitative, focusing on oral-verbal communications and person-to-person interactions. These processes defined my principal concepts within this project by demonstrating the lived-realities of religious identities, religious communities, and the prevalence of inter-faith communication (or “sharing”) within this region. Most significantly, my research highlighted the ongoing importance of meanings – as well as the notable variance in what “the meaningful” was actually considered to be across and between faiths. Such diversity in understanding was made even more complex by different meanings being expressed in the same language, forms, narratives, or verbal images. Within these communications, metaphor was a creative, commonly used, and actively-engaged principle, evidenced within the practice of (different) faiths. This demonstrated a form of “relationality” or “inter-relationality” that seemed to reinforce contemporary, anthropological concepts of embodied lived-realities being a fundamental aspect of the relational, but not the same as “definitionality” or as “meaning”. Yet, when in use in Uttarakhand, principles, concepts (and uses) of expressive form, representation, communication, “sharing”, and “meaning”, were frequently entangled . Many apparent “oral metaphors” and “descriptions” – including images of “sacrifice”, “heart-speech”, God, Gods, or the cosmological/transcendent – had extended-meanings and purposes in their Garhwali context. Such meanings and actions were in contrast to what I had previously understood metaphor “to be”. These were not solely representational-metaphors, they were, instead, acts of agency (via expression). These observations led to my own evolution of the term “ontological-metaphor”. The metaphorical was persistently utilised not only as a “symbolic- tool”, but as an overlapping, entwined lived-form that was capable of encapsulating the relational and definitional-meaningful. This was not merely in a simultaneous representation, but as a co-creational state-of-being or “ontology”.





Barbira-Freedman, Francoise


Social Anthropology, North India, Metaphor, Lived-Realities, Expressive Agency


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge