The project I am working on while at IIAS has two objectives. First, it seeks to explore post-war heritage politics in Sri Lanka. In order to unravel topics such as the friction between heritage and ritual or the particular reading of the past inscribed in practices framed as heritage, I will draw on ethnographic fieldwork conducted for my PhD project in Sri Lanka. In my doctoral dissertation, I have analysed the heritagisation of two ritual healing traditions with a focus on hereditary performers and their positioning vis-à-vis heritagisation. At present, I am working on two papers based on my dissertation, one examining the changing role of possession in one of the healing ritual traditions as indicative of larger socio-political transformations and the other the processes of signification at work in heritage performances. The second objective of the project addresses ways of dealing with the past in post-war Sri Lanka. I am particularly interested in how religious practices and memorialization efforts shape reflections on the past, talking about the past and engagements with the past.
IIAS offers the ideal environment for my project since it combines a strong rooting in Area Studies with a global outlook that allows developing dialogues beyond fields and across regions. It serves moreover as a hub for Critical Heritage Studies. Another reason prompting me to apply for an IIAS fellowship were my previous experiences as a participant in an IIAS summer programme on Asian and European perspectives on heritage (2011), conducted by Professor Nira Wickramasinghe-Samarasinghe and Professor Michael Herzfeld. The summer programme not only motivated me to analyse my material from a new angle but was also characterised by an intellectually inspiring and extraordinary convivial atmosphere that stimulated future collaboration. One example is a panel at a Critical Heritage Studies conference in 2012 that was organized by five programme alumni with the support of IIAS and Michael Herzfeld (IIAS Newsletter, issue 61). I got to know IIAS as an institution that encourages out-of-the-box thinking and that is also dedicated to engaging stakeholders outside of academia, such as civil society actors and communities. My project greatly benefits from being based at IIAS and the thriving intellectual environment in Leiden to which the people and activities of the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) and its Faculty of Humanities add significantly. Last but not least, it is the cordiality and open-mindedness of people here that turns my stay in Leiden in such an enriching and enjoyable experience. While I will continue to work on my project during my remaining stay in Leiden until May 2018, I also hope to expand my network, follow up on the burgeoning ideas for future collaborative activities and to have more equally enriching experiences.