Anne Mocko

Research Project Title: Incentivizing Asceticism

Assistant Professor of Religion

Concordia College, Department of Religion

Moorhead, Minnesota; United States of America

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Academic Biography

Anne Mocko is Assistant Professor of Asian religions at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where she has taught since 2012. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School, and her 2012 dissertation on the role of ritual in the dismantling of Nepal’s Hindu monarchy was awarded distinction.

Her research has primarily focused within the field of ritual studies, and she has been most interested in examining the capacity of ritual practice to inscribe narratives or ideologies into the lived realities of practitioners and observers. Her doctoral research was conducted in Nepal, and was focused on the effects and effectiveness of political ritual. She examined the ways that the royal rituals that had for centuries performed the king as the center of the government and nation were co-opted and transformed between 2006–2008 in order to remove the king and implement a party-based electoral government in the monarchy’s place.

She is the author of several articles and book chapters, including most recently “Nepal and Bhutan in 2014: New Governments, Old Problems” (co-authored with Dorji Penjore, appearing in the January 2015 issue of the Asian Survey journal). Her first book, Demoting Vishnu: Ritual, Politics, and the Unraveling of Nepal’s Hindu Monarchy, will be released by Oxford University Press later this year.

Executive Summary

This project is designed as a comparative, ethnographic investigation into the concept and practice of merit in Theravada Buddhism and Jainism. I argue that both traditions posit a powerful counter-world in which humans can free themselves from their desires and pettiness—a world in which humans can be calm, undemanding, peaceable, and satisfied—and that each tradition puts forward concrete practices, particularly oriented around the generation of merit, through which ordinary people can move toward that counter-world.

Merit is a spiritual “asset.” It accumulates as a result of acts of compassion, non-violence, or renunciation, and aids in rebirth and eventual salvation. The generation of merit is central to Buddhist and Jain lay practice, and it organizes the lives of Buddhists and Jains around the core ascetic/monastic ideals of the religions. I hypothesize that, through these practices, even as Buddhists and Jains reduce or renounce lives of worldly pleasure, they can nevertheless experience their lives as being abundant in merit.

In order to probe the specific dynamics of merit-making activities, I will conduct field research in Asia, traveling to and residing in Theravada Buddhist and Jain communities, in order to observe merit-making practices and interview practitioners. I plan to travel during the three summers of the grant period to Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka, and hope that my research will contribute to a fuller appreciation to the ways that two of the world’s foremost monastic religions affirm meaningful non-monastic lives, and teach that any life can enhanced through restraint and compassion.