Frank J. Korom

Frank J. Korom

Fellow: Awarded 2006
Field of Study: South Asian Studies

Competition: US & Canada

Education: Boston University

I received degrees in Religious Studies and Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1984, before pursuing studies in India and Pakistan. South Asia has always been central to my being, as I backpacked there in the mid-seventies, so by the time I decided to go to college I had already decided to dedicate my life to the region. I did my graduate studies in folklore and folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, and was awarded the Ph.D. in 1992 for a dissertation on Dharmaraj, a local village deity worshipped in West Bengal from medieval times to the present. I then took up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, where I worked on a film and book about Shi’ite muharram rituals as performed on the island of Trinidad. Both were titled Hosay Trinidad. The film (http://www.der.org/films/hosay-trinidad.html) won a screening award at UCLA’s ethnographic film festival, and the book (http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/13848.html) won the Premio Pitre prize. I served as curator of Asian and Middle Eastern collections at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe for five years, where I worked on a project concerning Tibetan diasporic culture called “At Home Away from Home" (http://www.moifa.org/exhibitions/past/hah_tibet/index.html) prior to accepting a position at Boston University in 1998.

After completing the Trinidad project, I desired to return to West Bengal to study an artisan caste known as Patua, who are scroll painters and singers. This was a collaborative project resulting in an exhibition (http://www.moifa.org/exhibitions/past/villageofpainters.html) and a catalogue (http://www.mnmpress.org/books.php?id=3). What attracted me to this talented group of people was their versatility and creativity, how they were able to adapt their traditional mode of livelihood to the demands of modernity. You can get a sense of this by listening to a song composed by one bard about 9/11, while simultaneously viewing a scroll that accompanies the singing of the song by clicking here (http://www.bu.edu/today/node/1200). See also the following link that discusses this work (http://www.bu.edu/today/2008/09/17/unrolling-tradition). I continue to work with the Patuas and hope to complete another book about their current predicament called Singing Modernity.

I have also recently started a project on what I call “transnational Sufism,” which will take me to Sri Lanka, from where a charismatic Sufi preacher named Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen (Ral) came. Bawa, as he is known to his extended family, came to the United States at the invitation of some young seekers living in Philadelphia. They eventually founded the Bawa Muhayaddeen Fellowship (http://www.bmf.org/) with him. Bawa traveled back and forth from his new home to his native land until his death in 1986. He is buried in a rural area outside of Philadelphia, where pilgrims visit his mazar (http://www.bmf.org/mazar/index.html) regularly. What I am attempting to do is reconstruct his history prior to his arrival in Philadelphia in the first part of my project. Then I want to focus on the community in North America that grew up around him and how they continue on the Sufi path.

My work has been supported by the Institute of International Education, the Mellon Foundation, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, the International Folk Art Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, the American Academy of Religion, and, most recently, the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies (http://www.aisls.org/index.html). I am the author and editor of eight books, most recently South Asian Folklore: A Handbook, which was published in 2006 by Greenwood Press (http://www.greenwood.com/catalog/GR3193.aspx).

My research and teaching interests range from South Asian expressive traditions and contemporary religion to diaspora studies and transnationalism, which is reflected in my work on East Indians in the Caribbean and the global community of Tibetan refugees. I am also interested in film, ritual, and performance studies.

Frank J. Korom is a Professor of Religion & Anthropology at Boston University.

 

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