The Origin of Things


ACLS Project Development Grants


Religious Studies


Exorcistic healing traditions among Sinhala Buddhists of Sri Lanka include texts about the “origins” (upata) of ritual items used in the ceremonies, mythically found or forged by gods in the deep reaches of Buddhist temporality. I read upata poetics as a philosophy that reflects on the place of objects among varied human and nonhuman forces. To do so, I pair this poetry with theorists of new materialism who deny that objects are inert, inhuman, and separate from subjects. I thereby argue that upata poetics are an instructive counterpoint to our current consumerism that makes commodity production invisible. To exorcise this modern market sorcery, upata verses encourage us to look after things with ritual attention, scrutinizing their origins and contemplating our shared fates.