Two CAS professors receive Fulbright-Nehru Scholar scholarships for their work in India – News
Colleen Fisher, Ph.D., will examine microfinance to reduce poverty among vulnerable women in low-resource countries, and Cathleen Cummings, Ph.D., will study and map Bhosle dynasty temples in Nagpur, India.
Written by: Haley Herfurth
Media contact: Yvonne Taunton
Two associate professors from the University of Alabama at Birmingham College of Arts and Sciences received Fulbright-Nehru Awards for pursuing separate research projects in India. Colleen Fisher, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Social Work, and Cathleen Cummings, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art and Art History, will travel to India in 2022 due to related travel restrictions to COVID-19.
India is a unique place to conduct my research, says Fisher.
âMany women in India live in extreme poverty, have no formal education and have been raised to work at home, which is problematic in many ways, especially when the death of a spouse or divorce takes place. the woman running the household, âsaid Fisher. mentionned.
Women who are socially trained to be stay-at-home mothers must now provide for their children without any professional skills or other training – a situation in which two bad conditions exist simultaneously. According to Fisher, microfinance – an unconventional intervention that targets people who do not have access to traditional banking and financial services – could be a solution for women in these circumstances. His Fulbright-funded research will explore these possibilities.
Fisher approaches the issue from a social work perspective rather than an economic, business, or managerial perspective. It’s a relatively new take on the field, she says. Current research on microfinance options for women in India generally tracks loan repayment status or income growth. Yet few questions are asked about their lived experience with microfinance, the empowerment they have gained from it, or whether their literacy skills and health have improved.
âThere are so many ripple effects that microfinance can have on the lives of women,â said Fisher. “There has been almost no qualitative research, which we need to understand women’s experiences for women to have a voice in the process.”
Fisher will work alongside women using microfinance to develop a data collection tool called a life history calendar. Unlike a quantitative survey or an interview that includes static questions, Fisher will work with the women to establish the instrument using both symbols and words, which will help women who are unable to read or write. Additionally, Fisher will work as a photographer and take portraits of the women to illustrate their travels.
âI want to contextualize that poverty doesn’t look like the way people think,â Fisher said. “These women are beautiful and proud, and I will try to take pictures that showcase that.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fisher doesn’t know exactly when she will travel to India; but she expects to stay there for about five months in total on two separate trips. She is also the director of the master’s program in social work and hopes to use her time in India to form study abroad partnerships for UAB students.
Cummings plans to study temples from the Bhosle dynasty of Nagpur, India, in the 18th and 19th centuries and later, which have generally been overlooked by art historians and scholars, with great consequences, she says. . Many have been demolished, left in disrepair, or converted to other uses, often with little to no evidence of their existence – which makes her work time sensitive, she says.
Cummings plans to map every temple and sacred complex she can find. Unfortunately, there is no complete record of the temples still standing, and many temples are in private hands. For example, all that is left of a particular temple that she will map is an inner shrine that is inside the parking lot on the ground floor of an apartment complex.
âThe temple was privately owned and the family could earn money by converting the area into an apartment building,â Cummings said. “They kept the inner part of the temple but nothing else.”
Cummings plans to study structures built using a mixture of bricks, woods and tiles and which are vulnerable to the elements over time. She says a temple owner unintentionally attempted to preserve the historic structure and covered a leaking wooden roof with concrete, only to find that the wooden pillars could not support the weight of the concrete. As a result, he has no more resources to devote to the project.
âA lot of these structures are under threat and we need to document them as best we can,â Cummings said. “And then we have to make them known as much as possible with the idea of ââraising awareness and hopefully preserving them.”
Cummings will work to contextualize the temples of British colonialism and Orientalist scholarship. The temples represent a poorly studied and important body of Hindu architecture and sculpture and provide a case study for understanding the dynamics between the British states and various Indian states in the 18th century.
Cummings hopes to turn his research into a book documenting the architecture of the existing temple and telling the story of the time.
âThere are 1.4 billion people in India, so a huge percentage of our world is made up of Indians,â Cummings said. âIt’s important to understand the rest of the world. If you dive in and watch carefully, you can learn so much about the history, culture, and people and what they believed in, which was important to them, just by watching what they did and cherish.