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“The Time Has Come to Save Our Women”: A Female Religious Leader’s Feminist Politics as Experimental Hinduism in North India

Antoinette DeNapoli

Antoinette DeNapoli, University of Wyoming

Publication Date: Summer 2015

Research Question
How do female religious leaders who have mobilized religious organizations for female renouncers (sādhus; sannyāsinīs; yoginīs) draw on and reinterpret religious texts, practices, and ideologies to align Hinduism with 21st-century transnational discourses like feminism and gender and human rights, as these notions are conceived in local Indian contexts? How are female renouncers not only working within, but also working beyond the more conventional institutional structures, which often follow male models of leadership, power, and hierarchy, to transform inequitable social structures and practices within the male- dominated religious institution of Hindu renunciation? How are the local householder communities whom female renouncers serve responding to their social activism in renunciation?

The significance of this project has to do with understanding the ways that religious leaders, or sādhus, in 21-st century transnational India, who have often been characterized as being out-of-sync with modernity, are engaging the cultural projects of modernity in order to make Hinduism relevant to modern times and, through that engagement, are redefining the definitional parameters of what “counts” as Hinduism.

Methods Used
This project uses critical-historical methods of textual and discourse analysis and performance analysis, as well as the anthropological methods of ethnography and case studies.

The outcome of this project will be a monograph, which is tentatively titled, “Religion at the Crossroads: Experimental Hinduism and the Theologizing of the Modern in Transnational India.” Through the research funding provided by the Center for Global Studies, I am also presenting a conference paper titled, “Gender, Monasticism, and the Reimagining of Sanghā in Indian Traditions of Renunciation: Hindu Sādhus’ Creation of Women’s-only Mandals (organizations) in Rajasthan,” at the (2015) American Academy of Religion, in Atlanta, Georgia.


Recommended Citation
DeNapoli, Antoinette, "“The Time Has Come to Save Our Women”: A Female Religious Leader’s Feminist Politics as Experimental Hinduism in North India" (2015). CGS Faculty Awards 2015. 2.

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