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This panel brings together four papers on distinctive aspects of North American Hinduism to highlight how contemporary practices, institutions and individuals engage in various aspirational endeavors. The panel uses Aspirational Hinduisms to express the ways North American Hindus seek to transform, transmit and acquire different types of capital for themselves, their communities, and their children. These papers examine how modern North American Hindus cultivate new types of power and identity, through a variety of contexts including Bridal preparations, where ritual, social and material capital work to constitute Hindu brides; the cultivation of political capital through healing and restorative justice among Sri Lankan Hindus at a temple in Toronto; the development of spiritual and social capital and authority through enactments of the snake blemish ritual at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta; or the educative and identity-shaping capital fostered in children at North American Hindu camps. Through looking at the aspirational aspects of these modern processes of identity and ritual transmission, this panel considers the intersection of different vectors in contemporary Hinduism that elucidate the ways selves, communities, and relationships engage in processes of becoming through ritual and social transactions and transformations.
Shifting Landscapes of Authority and Authenticity: Snake Blemish Rituals in Three Spaces
This paper brings ethnographic fieldwork focused on the Kala Sarpa Dosha Nivarana ritual at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta into conversation with research carried out in two other spaces: the religious space of the well-known Hindu temple at Kalahasti in India and the virtual space of an online discussion board, www.IndusLadies.com. This remedial ritual is intended to counteract naga dosham (snake blemish), a malignant astrological condition that is primarily faulted for causing delayed marriage and infertility. Drawing on research conducted in Atlanta and India as well as virtual ethnography in the IndusLadies.com forum, my paper argues that the locus of authority and authenticity is shifting for many transnational Hindus, such that returning to Indian religious sites may be being displaced by undertaking these ritual performances at North American temples, and the ritual therapies suggested by family astrologers and priests are being supplanted by those recommended by Internet interlocutors.
“Healing Takes Different Forms: Coping with Illness, Trauma and Loss in a Sri Lankan-Canadian Temple Community”
This paper address the powerful role of the temple in community healing, drawing on research conducted at the Adhi Parasakthi Temple Society of Canada in Toronto 2009. Healing is a key issue in the lives of Sri Lankan immigrants and refugees. Several health and policy studies have been conducted within the Toronto area to assess the needs of Tamil immigrants from Sri Lanka. This paper discusses the range of needs and concerns within the temple society and illustrates the central role of the temple in the healing process. The voices of community members provide accounts of family crisis and gangland violence, children with illness, and issues of emotional trauma and loss related to the complexities of war. Through the auspices of the local Adhi Parasakthi temple, networks of social, religious and emotional support are being re-established for this community and crisis recovery facilitated outside the scope of government assistance programs.
The Transmission of Religiosity at Hindu Summer Camp
A large number of Indian-American Hindus learn about Hindu culture in Hindu summer camps. Through fieldwork conducted in Summer 2012, at Hindu summer camps I analyze attempted religious transmission in these contexts. I attempt to understand how Hinduism is imparted in America, the media employed to that end, and what that means under these particular circumstances of migration, integration, and societal (attempts at) reproduction. Through interviewing campers, counselors, parents, and camp alumni, I investigate what impact these camps have on the lives of campers and the subsequent ways in which they express their religiosity in the context of displacement and flux.
Sensational Bodies: Bridal Adornment in Affective Media
In this presentation I summon the use of visual ethnography in the analysis of websites and wedding guidebooks geared toward South Asian and South Asian diasporic audiences for sources for representation of Hindu women’s bodily expression. I argue first that media images of Hindu women’s wedding adornment (solah shringar) are religiously affective and second, used to construct and share an idealized visual aesthetic of Hindu bridal beauty. Reading the contents of these websites and guidebooks as religious media and as "sensational forms", I analyze: the promotion of a normatively sanctioned construction of Hindu women’s embodied knowledge; the necessary link between the bridal body, a Hindu woman’s ritual appearance, and the ritual experience of a Hindu wedding; the potential of this media to invoke and shape aesthetic formations, religious subjectivities, and religious reality for viewers.
Phyllis Herman, California State University Northridge
Michael Altman, Emory University
Shreena Gandhi, Kalamazoo College