Cécile Guillaume-Pey: Research & CV

From Spirit to Letter. Modes of Appropriating Script among Tribal Groups in India

Research Area 1: Displacements, “Dépaysements” and Discrepancies

Contact: cecile.guillaume-pay@cefres.cz

Photo Guillaume-PeyFrom the 18th century on among colonized populations, many systems of graphic signs were born in the frame of nascent religious movements. Such was the case among the Soras, a tribal group in Central Eastern India. At the end of the 1930s, a Sora school teacher came up with a script, whose letters each materialize a deity, and which came to be worshiped by the believers of the religious movement founded by him. As this holy alphabet spread, new forms of liturgy came into being and the transmission modes of ritual skills were redesigned. This research aims at understanding how an intrument of power-knowledge such as writing was reshaped by the ritual landscape in which it was rooted, and at assessing the extent to which such a medium, creatively reappropriated by the actors who got hold of it, contributes to redefining their religious practices and representations. The various forms of resistance stirred by this new way of apprehending the divine, should also be appraised—from both a social and cognitive point of view. Based on an ethnography led amidst a community, where script was first and foremost used for ritual purposes, this comparative study will appraise contexts of creation, dissemination and uses of graphic systems invented among tribal groups in 19th century India.


Current situation

Associated to Centre d’Anthropologie Sociale (LISST, UMR 5193, CNRS-EHESS, Jean Jaurès University)


2012: Qualification to become a university assistant professor in section 20 (Ethnology) of the University National Council (C.N.U.).

2011: PhD in Anthropology – École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Dissertation title: Du sang à l’écriture. Les pratiques rituelles des Sora (un groupe tribal du centre-est de l’Inde. Under the supervision of Marine Carrin (CNRS). Thesis jury: J-P. Albert, A. De Sales, M. Carrin, G. Tarabout, G. Toffin. With the degree “très honorable avec félicitations du jury” (summa cum laude).

2005: 2nd year of MA in Anthropology – École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Mention très bien (equ. UK 1st class degree), top of class.

2004: MA in Philosophy – Toulouse 2 Le Mirail University.

2003: 1st year of MA in Anthropology – Toulouse 2 Le Mirail University.

2003: BA in Philosophy – Toulouse 2 Le Mirail University.

2002: BA in Ethnology – Toulouse 2 Le Mirail University.

Grants and Fellowships

  • Post-doctoral research grant, Yale Institute of Sacred Music (2014-2015).
  • Post-doctoral research grant, Fondation Fyssen (2012-2013).
  • PhD grant at EHESS (2005-2008).
  • Grant of Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (2006).

Professional Experience

2014–2015: Lecturer at Yale Department of Religious Studies.

2014 (Summer semester): Part-time lecturer at University College Cork. Courses: “Indigenous religions” (BA), “Research methods and fieldwork project” (MA).

2012–2013: Post-doctoral researcher at Fyssen, University College Cork and Queen’s University Belfast. Organization of a workshop on “Indigenous Aesthetics and Marginalised Systems of  Knowledge”. Co-organizer of a weekly research seminar (for MA and PhD students). Participations in the MA seminar “Deities, Devotion and Disciplines in Indian Religions”.

2009–2011: Organization of lecture cycles on India and teaching at Toulouse 2 Le Mirail University and at Université du Temps Libre et l’Université Populaire de Philosophie.

2005–2008: “Allocataire de recherche et monitorat” at Toulouse 2 Le Mirail University. 3 year-long PhD grant; 64 yearly teaching hours.

Research Field

  • India, tribes
  • Religion and identity assertions
  • Aesthetical practices
  • Ritual performances
  • Transmission of knowledge
  • Script inventions and practices


Articles in peer-reviewed journals
  • “Pots-esprits et peintures-maisons chez les Sora”, in La Force des objets, Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions (forthcoming).
  • “Corps de pierres, chants et grognements”, in « La puissance divine. Actes du colloque international en hommage à Jean-Pierre Vernant », Bibliothèque de l’École des Hautes Études, Sciences Religieuses (BEHE) (forthcoming).
Chapters in Collective Works
  • “Whose Centre? Gonasika, a Tribal Sacred Place and a Hindu Centre of Pilgrimage”, in M. Carrin & L. Guzy (eds.), Voices from the Periphery. Subalternity and Empowerment in India, Routledge, 2012, p. 182-202.
  • “From blood to scripture. Religious conversions and the making of identity among the Sora (a scheduled tribe from Orissa-Andhra Pradesh border)”, in M. Carrin, G. Toffin & P. Kanungo (eds.), The Politics of Ethnicity on the Margins of the State: Janajati/Adivasis in India and Nepal, Primus, 2014, p. 223-239.
  • “From ritual images to Animated Movies. The transformative journey of Sora paintings”, in U. Skoda, B. Lettmann & N. Kumar (dir.) Mapping Visualities: India and its Visual Cultures, SAGE (in press).
  • “Between village and school, Transmission of ritual knowledge among the Sora young generation”, in M. Carrin et D. Blanc (eds.), Transfer of Knowledge and Children Agency: Rebuilding the Paradigm of Socialization, Primus (in press).
  • “Du rituel au dessin animé. Trajectoires d’images divines chez les Sora de l’Andhra Pradesh (Inde)”, in R. Rousseleau (ed.), L’art d’être autochtone : figure du tribal et figurations tribales en Inde  (forthcoming).
Dictionary Entry
  • “Ecritures révélées contemporaines”, in R. Azria, D. Hervieu-Leger, D. Iogna-Pratt (eds.), Dictionnaire dynamique des faits religieux. Vocabulaire des sciences sociales du religieux (submitted).
Book Reviews
  • “M. Houseman, Le rouge est le noir.  Essais sur le rituel (Toulouse, Presses Universitaire du Mirail, 2012)”, L’Homme, n° 207-208, 2013.
  • “A. Kedzierska-Manzon, Chasseurs mandingues. Violence, pouvoir et religion en Afrique de l’Ouest (Paris, Editions Karthala, 2014)”, Archives de sciences sociales des religions (in press).
Summary of the PhD dissertation
  • C. Guillaume-Pey, « Du sang à l’écriture. Les pratiques rituelles des Sora, une tribu du centre-est de l’Inde », Archives de sciences sociales des religions, n° 160, 2012, p. 309-358.