Université d'Erfurt


Prof. Dr. Beatrice Renzi: Juniorprofessur für die Anthropologie und Religion Südasiens

Universität Erfurt

Max-Weber-Kolleg für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien

Postfach 900 221

99105 Erfurt



Religious individualization and the collective self. Revisiting questions of agency through a study of religiosity in India

The project takes an anthropological approach to the study of what we term ‘religion’, which seeks to highlight the polyvalent nature of religious beliefs and practices and foreground their sociocultural dimensions within the Indian context. In this sense, religion is explored from the perspectives of social actors and in terms of its embeddedness in historically contingent processes shaping specific forms of sociality, of public rule and economic transaction. While the focus lies on the post-independence period, the issues at hand are historically contextualized within the larger framework of modern India.

The aim is to deepen our understanding of how different movements and social actors have availed themselves of secular-religious repertoires, and the value systems in which they are embedded, as means of collective identity formation and public representation. In particular, the project explores how beliefs and practices followed by diverse communities interrelate with each other. It engages in an analysis of agency within a broad spectrum of often eclectic and ambivalent religious pathways, which are expressive of fluctuating processes of individual and collective self-conception. The study more closely examines how claims for recognition interrelate with processes of religious individualization and institutionalization. Through case studies on diverse traditions and their followings, it shows how different conceptions of the self, of liberation and of the social and cosmic order interface with the ways communities negotiate the material and symbolic dimensions of secular-religious regimes, re-appropriating some elements and rejecting others, enabling certain practices and disabling others. The project sheds light on the degree of autonomy that these social actors have in opening up spaces for more egalitarian and dignified forms of belonging.

More broadly, attention is given to investigating how these developments have shaped the meanings of religion and modernity with its diverse social imaginaries. The project also raises wider theoretical questions seeking to critically appraise analytical perspectives of the religious field, such as those based on dichotomous demarcations vis-à-vis the ‘non-religious’ or those centered on dogmatic corpuses taken as normative categories detached from their historical situatedness. This also allows developing some larger theoretical considerations on the nature of social change.

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