Terje Oestigaard – researcher with focus on the role of rituals in times of climate change and globalisation

I am educated as an archaeologist and have worked particularly with contemporary material culture studies, conducting anthropological or ethnographic fieldworks. My research interests are mainly in three different fields.

Firstly, water studies aiming to understand the role of water in history and society with a particular emphasis on religion in a comparative perspective. The main area is the Nile basin region and the countries Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt. All agricultural practices are dependent upon water and humans seek to control and modify the weather and the water world physically as well as ritually and religiously.

My current project aims to study rainmaking rituals and beliefs in Tanzania as a way of intervening in weather systems in the face of climate change and globalisation. The research will explore how culture and religion influence and is influenced by development processes.

Cultural and religious aspects are often neglected in development studies, but these traditions are some of the most resilient structures in any given society. Rainmaking rituals are believed to work and actually modify the weather and procure rain because they link the ancestral world and the gods to society and may thus enable or restrict societal changes.

Secondly, political archaeology and cultural heritage studies with an emphasis on both the tangible and intangible heritage. The past is used and misused in the present for political purposes. It is therefore important to investigate how the archaeological past gives some groups or people historic rights and not others. As well as how nation states legitimise territorial claims and create ethnic and national identities.

Cultural heritage is also a positive resource for human identities and cultural belonging, but in many places both the tangible and intangible heritage disappears. The research in Ethiopia has been concentrated on documenting rituals, beliefs and traditions along the Blue Nile, from the source Gish Abay to Lake Tana and the waterfalls. The most important rituals are structured around holy water and the river, but scarcely documented ethnographically. The study in Tanzania will also document this tangible and intangible cultural heritage structured around water and religion.

Finally, death rituals and cremations that also link to water and life-giving processes. Previously I have studied Hindu and Buddhist funerals in Nepal, India and Bangladesh and prehistoric cremations in the Nordic countries. Death is not an end but an entrance to the Otherworld and water is often the link between these spheres, enabling and ensuring new life and incarnations. In Egypt I have studied the religious role of the Nile in the rise and constitution of the ancient Egyptian civilisation. I had a particular emphasis on the characteristics of the water during the flood and how these are incorporated into myths and the cosmology.

Read more about Terje Oestigaard and his research project. His previous work on the Nile Basin resulted e.g. in ‘Nile Issues’ (pdf), a popular science book (pdf) and a poster exhibition,

Cultural heritage
Terje Oestigaard
Traditional culture
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