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Religion professor publishes graduate research

From meeting the Nepalese monarchy to writing her discoveries from research about Nepal, assistant professor of religion Dr. Anne Mocko said her first book has been a wonderful opportunity and learning experience.

Mocko’s book, “Demoting Vishnu: Ritual, Politics, and the Unraveling of Nepal’s Hindu Monarchy,” was published early November.

In the book, Mocko creates an argument that ritual creates social identities, focusing on Nepalese culture.

“I think that that’s an argument that is a youthful way to think about social identities and processes,” Mocko said.

The first chapter makes her theoretical argument, the second gives a chronological history of the monarchy and the third is about coronation and rituals based upon passing office from one king to the next. The next three chapters discuss three rituals that the king was no longer allowed to attend the rituals in 2007.

Mocko hopes her analysis of the Nepalese monarchy helps people think about a correlation between ritual and social identities — not only in this situation, but in other situations as well.

“Her work is very accessible and it helps people understand a very complicated situation,” said Dr. Roy Hammerling, interim chair and professor of religion. “She writes in a very accessible way.”

Mocko’s interest in Nepal goes back to her schooling. Mocko studied at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. where she obtained her bachelor’s in religion. She studied abroad in Nepal in 2001, which was when the royal family was massacred by Prince Dipendra, heir to the throne at the time. Mocko said she watched the new king become crowned on live TV while she was there.

Mocko went on to achieve her master’s and Ph.D. in religious studies at the University of Chicago. In graduate school, she planned to write about royal ritual, looking at ancient rituals and new practices. In 2006, Nepal had a peaceful revolution. Since 2008, a prime minister has replaced the monarchy, changing the way the government has been run.

Mocko started researching in 2007 and by 2009 had the introduction and one chapter drafted. Mocko said her most serious research was the 15 or 16 months she spent in Nepal from 2009 to 2010.

“She’s been on the ground in Nepal working with people,” Hammerling said. “The work is very innovated. It’s very hands on.”

While in Nepal, Mocko had the opportunity to speak with many people including an ex-king, a former prime minister and other members of the government.

“I was surprised honestly at how many people were willing to talk to me,” Mocko said. “They were very gracious with their time.”

Mocko said people were open with her in her interviews because they all felt they had been successful and did not feel like they needed to cover up what they had done.

Mocko’s research assistant in Nepal, Devendra Neupane, played a large part in helping Mocko find ways to meet with the people.

“At my very first meeting with him, I came with a list of ‘these are the people want to try to meet,’” Mocko said.

Neupane was able to help her by showing Mocko connections between people so that if she could contact one person, they may be able to help connect her with another.

At first, Mocko was not sure she wanted an assistant because she wanted to be able to do the research on her own. Eventually, she hired Neupane in order to help with phone calls and to help set interviews up.

“He turned out to be just spectacular,” Mocko said.

After she returned from Nepal in late 2010, she began writing her dissertation based on her research done there.

“The book was based on my Ph.D. dissertation,” Mocko said.

Mocko decided to continue writing about Nepal’s royal ritual because as she was doing the research and working on her dissertation, it all became more and more interesting to her.

“It’s almost like I felt like I couldn’t not write about it,” Mocko said.

When it came to the writing process, Mocko wrote the book out of order.

“I had the overall structure in my head from very early on,” Mocko said.

What ended up being chapter four was the first thing she wrote. While in graduate school in 2012, she worked on chapters one through three for several hours a day.

When she started teaching at Concordia in 2012, Mocko left the project alone. Since she was on a schedule and had other deadlines to meet, it was easy to push aside her research and writing.

“I think the hardest thing was trying to find the time,” Mocko said. “It’s very challenging to carve out time especially during the year.”

This challenge did not stop her from completing her book. Her scholarship is important to her.

“It’s important for students to see that we [professors] are scholars,” Hammerling said. “We do write.”

Mocko returned to the project during summer of 2013 when she started revising what she had written for her dissertation. After that summer, Mocko sent in her book proposal to Oxford University Press. The book then went through a reader review process where three scholars in the field gave her feedback.

Once they decided to go ahead with the publication of Mocko’s book, they offered her a contract and set a submission date for her manuscript. She submitted her manuscript the first week of February 2015, and received proofs the last week of June.

Mocko received help from Concordia’s religion department in some informal ways. Previously published authors in the department helped her prepare materials for the publishing contracts. The whole department read a chapter during colloquium where once a month the religion department gets together to read each other’s work.

“We critique it, we argue, we have lots of fun,” Hammerling said. “It allows her to have an outside view.”

During this process, the department helped Mocko with clarification to aiding in the formation of chapters.

“I’ve had a lot of help and support from my colleagues,” Mocko said.

One of Mocko’s highlights of putting the book together was looking through photos for the book. She used many of her own but she also looked online to find photos.

“I spent a lot of time looking for other people’s pictures of these people,” Mocko said.

Then, it was finalized by the end of August and she received an actual book in her hand at the end of October.

Since this was Mocko’s first time writing a book, she said she did not realize how independent the whole process would be.

“It’s a little bit scary to just be writing on your own,” Mocko said.

Mocko thought that Oxford University Press would have more input and there would have been more feedback from readers about content.

“I’ll know that next time I can make more of a point to seek out readers for content,” Mocko said.

The book was released in early November.

Mocko plans to publish another book, which will be a follow-up about the chronological political history of the monarchy of Nepal. Large sections of her dissertation will show up in this book. Mocko is unsure when this book will be ready for publication, but it will not be within the next couple of years.

“She’s had to work hard to get to this point,” Hammerling said.

The religion department is proud of Mocko’s accomplishment with the publication of her book.

“We live off of each other’s reputations,” Hammerling said. “We are proud of each other.”

Administrative assistant of the religion department Elizabeth Cronin said the religion department will plan a reception to celebrate.

“It’s definitely a significant achievement,” Cronin said. “It’s really cool early in her career to have something like this.”

Mocko has been given the opportunity to do more research abroad through a two-year research grant of $50,000 dollars from the John Templeton Foundation for The Enhancing Life Project.

During this time, Cronin said Mocko will attend three seminars along with continuing her research.

“It’s pretty exciting for her,” Cronin said.

Thirty-five individuals from around the world received this grant to investigate “an essential aspiration of human beings that moves persons and communities into the future” according to The Enhancing Life Project’s website.

People of all different backgrounds will be working on the research through the grant. Mocko said she knows of one neuroscientist working with aging, a museum scholar working with medical ethics and a business scholar examining market behaviors.

Mocko’s project is called “Incentivizing Asceticism.” She will be looking at the idea of merit in Theravada Buddhism and Jainism. Mocko said both traditions have the idea that if an individual completes a positive act for his or her religion, the person will receive affirmative feedback.

Her hypothesis is if humans live in a world where it is going to be necessary to cut back on possessions and items in the future, the practice of religion may provide insight on how to diminish the need for materials.

“You need to incentivize the act of giving something up,” Mocko said.

In order to research her hypothesis, Mocko will be going to Asia to ask people about this. Again, she will be working in the field, talking to people.

Along with this, Mocko is required to teach a course that is related to her research. In the spring of 2016 and spring of 2017 Mocko will be teaching REL 210.

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