Although at first I didn’t think that the work Professor Siegel does remotely interested me, I learned that we had a lot more in common than I thought. Professor Siegel’s methodology of research were by far the most interesting to me.
The first thing I learned was that Professor Siegel’s actual interest was not in Religion, but in Indian culture, including Indian religion. He stated that the reason why UH Manoa offered him a teaching position was because he was an expert in the field of India, not because he was an expert in religion as a whole. He first became interested in India because he always associated India with magic, and wanted to learn more about the aspect magic played within the Indian culture. He decided that instead of entering India as a professor, he would enter as a magician. He said that before leaving America, he dabbled in magic tricks to help him prepare for this role. Once in India, Siegel joined a group of Indian magicians and upon numerous trips back to India, eventually joined in and performed with them.
Professor Siegel’s research methods are most interesting to me because he gained most of his knowledge from on-hand experience. He described his research method as somewhat “anthropological.” I was disenchanted when I realized that my previous notion of research outside of science being nothing more than reading articles from various sources was false. Professor Siegel made me more interested in research because his method of conducting it included traveling and experiencing what he was researching (Indian culture) hands on.
I found another surprising similarity when Professor Siegel told me that he was first a writer above other things. He actually wrote a book, called Love in a Dead Language, that was very successful and became a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Professor Siegel stated that this book was entirely fiction, which was interesting to me because one might assume out of research comes truth (aka nonfiction). However, Professor Siegel spoke to me of “scholarship in service of fiction”, and that unlike many colleagues he was foremost a writer. In his book he “blurred the line” between nonfiction and fiction, presumably by using his findings from research (truth) to make his story (fiction) more plausible and knowledgeable. (On a side note this reminded me of Truman Capote using nonfiction techniques on “fiction” with his book In Cold Blood. I know Capote went to Holcomb and researched the murders the book was based after and so Professor Siegel’s research methods behind Love in a Dead Language reminded me of this.)
Professor Siegel told me that the most startling thing he found throughout his research and time in India was the close friendship he made with an Indian magician. He stated that they were completely different, a juxtaposition– he a literate Jew and his friend an illiterate Muslim. Yet, they were best friends because they had the bond of interest in magic. He said that this broke down the view of the necessity of nationality, gender, race, etc. in a close relationship.