Out of Africa | Trinity University

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Out of Africa

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Erin Nourse has found her passion in the small wooden homes of Madagascar, where ancient culture revolving around the miracle of birth is celebrated and revered.

by Donna Parker

Erin Nourse, who received a bachelor's degree in religion and sociology with a minor in French from Trinity in 2005, traveled a long way from home - 10,000 miles or so - to follow her passion in religious studies. She is conducting field research on the island of Madagascar as she hones her expertise toward a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.

It's a challenge to earn the trust from the island women with whom Erin is studying. It's an independent nation of more than 20 million people, the majority of whom earn very little. Erin goes to their homes in small villages to interact primarily with midwives who tend to babies' spiritual and physiological needs as well as tending the birthing process. Just this month, she watched a ritual conducted by a midwife named Antoinette to help encourage a premature baby's growth.

"She mixed dirt from insect nests with honey (which is culturally sacred) in a white bowl, added a silver coin, which is symbolic, and stirred with her fingers, encircling this paste around the baby's joints every morning for a week," says Erin. "I was curious and wondered about the efficacy but realized it doesn't matter what I think of the practice or if it works. My job is to make sense of the stories, telling them in a way all can understand. I'm learning every day how to modify my approach for the greater success."

Erin and her husband, Ben Deitle, whom she married in 2009, live in local university housing along with other Americans. The pair has traveled the world since they tied the knot, first to Tibet where Ben studied Buddhism, and now in Madagascar where their apartment faces a beautiful blue bay - one of the many perks of this lush island nation. The two are making the most of life off the coast of Africa by hiking, biking, and enjoying the breathtaking beaches.

"We trek through the rain forest, exploring the environmental diversity. Recently, we saw the smallest chameleon in the world in addition to pink and yellow frogs," she laughs.

Erin is used to leading treks, having worked as a trip leader for Trinity's Outdoor Recreation Club.

"I also ran a lot at Trinity with two friends, in particular. We ran all over the city and in two marathons. It was such a blast! We sometimes woke up at 5:30 a.m. so we could get 13 miles in before our first class and it's really how I got to know San Antonio."

Trinity also set the tone for her future research.

"When we, as students, became interested in global issues of humanitarian concern, our professors equipped us to approach issues in an informed way. Randy Nadeau and Mackenzie Brown, both from the department of religion, exposed us to religious practice. They sent us out to visit temples and mosques."

"In Dr. Nadeau's class, we had an assignment to observe Buddhist monastic vows for two weeks. These experiences taught us to imagine with the religious practitioners we studied, which in my mind is at the heart of religious studies."

"I learned the value of studying religion from the bottom up, by studying ordinary people's stories and their points of view. This is what I take into the field as a doctoral student today."

"I can say, with sure confidence, that my experiences at Trinity inspired me to do things I never imagined - I could have never envisioned this career path."

You may contact Erin at Erinnourse82 [at] gmail.com.