Dr Arkotong Longkumer (PhD)

Lecturer in Religious Studies

Background

I was born in Kohima, the Indian state of Nagaland. Kohima is important for a number of reasons - it is the ancestral area of the indigenous Angamis (but now a cosmopolitan tribal space), the place where the British (and allies) fought the Japanese in 1944 as they made their way through Burma, and it is also where the Naga National Council (a movement for sovereignty) took shape. The culmination of these events, and the location of this region sandwiched between mainland India, China, Burma, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, is a challenging but a special place to work in. It is a region where conflict and militarisation has scarred the landspace. But it is also a region that demonstrates the human capacity to resist, subvert, and negotiate their belonging amidst forces that are constantly trying to bend them to their will. 

I first conducted fieldwork for my PhD in Assam amongst the Zeme Nagas. I was examining the Heraka Movement, a indigenous socio-religious movement, that arose in the 1930s to resist the reforms brought about by the British colonial power, Christian missionaries, and internal questions about the challenges to modernity. This resulted in a monograph (https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/reform-identity-and-narratives-of-belonging-9780826439703/). 

Since then I remain committed to the region and my research and teaching remains indebted to its 'storied' landscape. I am working on a book, funded by the British Academy, on Hindu nationalism and the way they express and experiment their ideologies in the eastern Himalayas - a sort of 'Hindutva laboratory'.  Additionally, I am interested in questions to do with migration and citizenship, especially due to the borderland region of Northeast India, and the many challenges it highlights between land resources, jobs, identity, religion, and the role of the state in managing these identities. Therefore, methodological questions that deal with conducting ethnography in sensitive and militarised zones, are central to my training as a scholar of the region, and I continue to explore these challenges both in my writing and teaching. 

 

Qualifications

PhD

Responsibilities & affiliations

External appointments

Advisory Board:

Himalaya

South Asianist

Undergraduate teaching

Contemporary Hindu Traditions

Religion and Nationalism

Global Religions

Anthropology of Religions and Fieldwork Methods

Studying Religions

Postgraduate teaching

Theory and Method in the Study of Religions

Contemporary Hindu Traditions

Religion and Nationalism

Research Methods and Fieldwork in Religion

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?

Yes

Areas of interest for supervision

I am interested in supervising students interested in Northeast India related to religion. More generally, I welcome any queries pertaining to the Himalayas, borderland areas (India, Burma, China), and largely to do with politics and religion. I am increasingly interested in material culture through indigenous community practice, but also how institutional regimes - such as organisations and museums - preserve objects that have a powerful biography. Issues related to repatriation, agency of objects, performance, identity are all important issues I have an interest in.  

Interested students can contact me with a brief outline of research. It is not enough simply to be interested in something, but to be passionate, even angry, at the way things have been done, and how your research will contribute to a better understanding. 

Current PhD students supervised

Liam Sutherland - Scottish nationalism, interfaith, pluralism, securalism

Samantha Bishop - Tantra in the UK, gender, body and the senses

Krittika Bhatarcharjee - Iona, place-making, stories, narratives, specialness

Anja Pogacnik - Jains in Leicester/Jamnagar, diaspora, intergenerational change

Past PhD students supervised

Michael Heneise - Dreams, landscape, Christianity, cosmology, Naga nationalism (Social Anthropology)

Menuo Ao - Indigenous woman writers, gender and national identity (South Asian Studies)

David Robertson - Conspiracy theories of religion, 'new religions' (Religious Studies)

Ethan Quillen - Literature and religion, atheism, Ian McEwan (Religious Studies)

Amidu Elabo - Space, place, Christianity/Islam, interfaith, conflict, Nigeria (Religious Studies)

Research summary

Indigenous religions, contemporary Hinduism, religious reform movements (especially in South/Southeast Asia), and local Christianities.

Nationalism/transnationalism and religion; globalisation and religion; postcolonial studies (especially identity and performance); and anthropology of religion.

Borderlands and nation-states in South and Southeast Asia amongst highland communities (known as Zomia), especially the Northeast and Nagas of India.

Material culture and its relation to religious practice.  

More information about research projects by Dr Longkumer are available on his Edinburgh Research Explorer profile.

 

Current research interests

More information about research projects by Dr Longkumer are available on his Edinburgh Research Explorer profile.

Affiliated research centres

Research activities

View all 21 activities on Research Explorer

Project activity

I am working on an interdisciplinary project that investigates the relationship between religion, territory and transnationalism in South Asia and beyond, focused on these specific themes:

The relationship between citizenship and religion and the proliferation of religious networks that challenge the territorial limitations of the nation-state.

  • I am currently completing a book on the Hindu-right in the eastern Himalayas, focusing on the way they articulate ideas of territory, culture, and religion, in the fraught landscape of Northeast India. 
  • I am interested in issues around migration and citizenship primarily through the launching of the National Register of Citizen (NRC) database in Assam and determines citizenship based on historical documents. I am interested in the bases for inclusion and exclusion and the increasing way in which the Hindu-right are trying to fashion a narrative of 'Hindu citizenship'. 

Gurus, Anti-Gurus, and Media in South Asia 

  • I am currently involved in a 3-year project with Dr. Copeman in Social Anthropology funded by the Leverhulme Research Grant. 

The current global concerns with religion and indigenous peoples, particularly centred on notions of indigenous peoples’ rights, religion, self-determination and human rights. 

I am interested in the relationship between material artefacts/musueums and indigenous communities.

  • Currently, I am investigating the curious 'Gaidinliu Notebooks' housed in the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford). Although largely known as 'untranslatable magic books' kept by a young girl of 16 (Gaidinliu) in Northeast India, it was confiscated upon her capture for allegedly disrupting the British Raj by plotting their overthrow in 1932. In the past few years, almost 80 years since the confiscation, I have been engaged with the Pitt Rivers Museum to take back digital copies of these books to Assam, India where her followers live. I explore aspect of this journey in an article 'Lines that Speak' (https://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau6.2.011/2385)

Current project grants

Along with Dr. Copeman, Social Anthropology (University of Edinburgh), we are involved in a 3-year project entitled "Gurus, Anti-Gurus, and Media in North India' (2019-2022). Funded by the Leverhulme Research Grant, the project builds on ethnographic studies of the modern Indian spiritual guru and the antisuperstition movement, applying methods from religious and media studies in order to understand the hitherto unrecognised ways visual media has become a site of intense interaction between gurus and the anti-superstition movement. The output will be a website, monograph and peer-reviewed articles allowing a step-change in the elucidation of the relationship between Indian religion and media.

Past project grants

I held a British Academy Mid-Career Fellow (2017-18) working on a project entitled "Fractured Landscape: Hindutva, nation and identity in Northeast India".
With the 2014 election of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India, Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) is on the rise. Like many nationalist movements, Hindutva seeks to promote a singular identity, but one that runs contrary to the aspirations of other groups in India. This project is the first to examine the impact of Hindutva in the sensitive borderlands of Northeast India, an area often considered to be ‘un-Indian’ due to its ethnically diverse population distinct from the rest of India. Firmly rooted in ethnographic research, the study explores four themes: Christianity and representations of patriotism; assimilating indigenous traditions with ‘Hinduism’; secularism and political theology; and ‘place-making’ and national belonging. The project will provide insight into Hindutva’s transformation in this region by broadening our understanding of the ambiguous relationship between religion, culture, and national identity. It will investigate the propagation of Hindu nationalism in the recalcitrant periphery of the Indian state, and its relation to the very concept of ‘India’.

For related published work see 'The Power of Persuasion' (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0048721X.2016.1256845?journal...) and 'Inserting Hindutva' (http://www.thehinducentre.com/the-arena/current-issues/article6916230.ece)

Christianity and Citizenship in India, Principal Investigator (CHSS Knowledge Exchange and Impact Grant)

This project is to engage with civil society representatives in order to examine and raise awareness of how Christianity in India is experienced by organising workshops in Bangalore (India) and Edinburgh (UK); to expand a research network, centred on collaboration between the UK and India, in order to investigate notions of Christianity and citizenship; and to develop a new collaborative research agenda with academic and non-academic stakeholders in the UK, India and beyond, with the longer-term aim of using the jointly-produced knowledge to empower the civil society organisations and feed back into their communities.

View all 21 publications on Research Explorer