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Pluralism, Development, and the ‘Populist’ Investment of a North Indian Pilgrimage Public


Abstract for Online Program Book (maximum 1200 characters including spaces)

Drawing on fieldwork in India, this presentation asks what resources the study of populism might offer to religionists working on programs of religious change. It examines projects of Hinduization and state-coordinated but trust-led charitable infrastructure development in Gogameri, Rajasthan, a rural pilgrimage site associated with vernacular pluralism and the lower strata of North Indian society. With the site's twenty-first-century explosion in popularity, priestly groups have made demands on the state in the name of a subaltern pilgrimage public, and sought to mobilize devotees and evoke antagonism toward an institutional status quo, including persons and practices that celebrate Gogameri's para-Islamic pasts. The paper asks how these projects connect to nationalist populisms, and how to describe religious and political mobilizations that interact without collapsing into one another. It suggests that while the projects in Gogameri are not populist per se, they articulate in certain abstract ways with Ernesto Laclau's theory of the formal logics of populism'except that their field of intervention is a pilgrimage and its public, rather than the state and a political community.