Whales of Power: the first year

Almost a year has passed since Whales of Power started. The project is still in its early stages - much work remains to be done in the coming years - but some important first steps have been made. Now that we are approaching the end of 2019, WhoP project leader Aike Rots looks back at the first year. 

Image may contain: Tree, Sky, Wall, Mountain, Tourism.
Photo: Aike Rots

Whales of Power is a group project, so the most important task for 2019 was finding fellow team members. In spring, we advertised the available positions: one postdoc and three PhD positions, each of which is connected to one of the project's work packages. Two of the four positions were filled; the other two were readvertised in summer. In the end, we found excellent candidates for all four positions. The first two PhD candidates, Sonja Åman and Tuan Anh Nguyen, started in September; the third PhD candidate, Marius Palz, in November; and the postdoctoral researcher, Florence Durney, has just started this week. It is great to finally have the team in place. In addition, the project has two part-time research assistants, Nguyen Nhung Lu and Ellen Haugan, who do important work behind the scenes.

One of our main group activities is a weekly project seminar, the WhoP Lab. Here the core team members come together to discuss relevant academic literature, research plans, and their own writings. We have also had some guests joining in our discussions. In May, Edyta Roszko came to Oslo to give a lecture on the South China Sea, and Quoc-Thanh Nguyen came in November to give a lecture on Vietnamese maritime religion. More public guest lectures will be organised in January 2020, so stay tuned! In addition, we will have our first internal workshop, on ethnographic fieldwork in East Asia, on 16 and 17 December. This will be followed by a second workshop on comparative research methodologies on 31 March and 1 April 2020. A larger international workshop/conference, on the topic "Animal agency in Asian religions", is planned for late spring 2021.

The bulk of the field research for Whales of Power will be conducted in 2020 and '21. However, in 2019 I did already have the opportunity to visit Vietnam for preliminary fieldwork, in Quảng Nam, Bình Thuận, and Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu provinces. Among other things, I attended two whale temple festivals and a whale funeral ritual, visited a number of other temples and burial sites, and conducted interviews with ritual practitioners and worshippers. Short impressions of these visits were posted on the Whales of Power Facebook page, which also contains links to interesting popular scientific articles on whale cultures and ecologies.

In 2019, I had the opportunity to present Whales of Power on a number of occasions. In January, I was invited to give a guest lecture at EHESS in Paris, and in March, I presented the project at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society. In May, I took part in the environmental humanities workshop "Arts of Coexistence: Care and Survival in the Sixth Extinction", and in June I convened a panel on sustainability in Japan at the Norwegian Asianet conference, both in Oslo. In July, I was given the opportunity to present my work at the Vietnam National Institute for Culture and Arts Studies, first in Hanoi and later in Ho Chi Minh City. Finally, in November, I was invited to take part in the conference "Bridging the Methodological Divide" at the University of Michigan, where we discussed ways to combine qualitative and quantitative research methods in Japanese studies. In addition, I was one of the three prize winners of the Toshiba International Foundation 30th Anniversary Essay Contest, and I was invited to present my ideas about the future of the field at the anniversary meeting in Tokyo.

Finally, a short note on publications. Most of my publications in 2019 were the outcome of earlier research on Okinawan sacred groves (articles in Asian Ethnology and Religions), tree-planting initiatives in Tohoku (in Japan Forum), and corporate religion (a co-authored article, forthcoming in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion), and are not directly linked to Whales of Power. However, another journal article - on the ways in which the category "heritage" relates to processes of secularisation and sacralisation in East Asia - is currently in print, and will be published soon as part of a special issue of the Journal of Religion in Japan. This articles takes up a number of themes that are central to Whales of Power and can be seen as the first publication directly linked to the project.

Let me conclude by wishing you all happy holidays, and a WhoPping New Year!


Published Dec. 12, 2019 3:54 PM - Last modified Aug. 4, 2020 11:38 AM