FSC-Harvard Fellow 2005-06
Before beginning her doctoral degree in Anthropology at Harvard, Emily Zeamer spent several years working for a small human rights organization in Bangkok, Thailand. This experience in human rights work drew her to the field of social anthropology, particularly to the problem of the role of ideology in people’s lives. Her research considers how individuals understand and talk about collective ideas about freedom and virtue, and how these ideals inform people’s actions. Her ethnographic research in Bangkok looks at the changing ways in which Thai women imagine and relate to Buddhist religious institutions and ideologies in the context of the intense social competition, consumerism, medias and dislocations that characterize life in contemporary Bangkok. At the Film Study Center, Emily is working on her first short documentary, Why I Don’t Go to the Temple Any More, a portrait of a Thai woman named Gop. A resourceful and idiosyncratic working-class mother of two, Gop talks about her life and her own very unusual spiritual commitments. Rejecting many of the ritual duties traditionally performed by ‘good’ Buddhists, such as making offerings to monks, Gop ‘makes merit’ by sacrificing most of her spare income and her free time to care for dozens of stray dogs. Gop’s spiritual and personal commitments emphasize asceticism, privacy and individual commitment, and enact a kind of refusal of the traditional religious ritual performances, which remain very public marks of class and status in Thailand.