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Antoinette DeNapoli

Religion at the Crossroads: Forms of the Modern and the Changing Faces of Gender and Renunciation in North India

Funded projects, February 2014

Researcher: Antoinette DeNapoli
Department: Religious Studies

WIHR Research Presentation: Wednesday, February 18 at 3:00 p.m. in Classroom 215

Title: Religion at the Crossroads:  The Rhetoric of Technology and the Reimagining of Hinduism in Contemporary Indian Asceticism

Abstract: This research presentation advances a conceptual shift in the ways that scholars think and teach about established socio-cultural categories, such as religion, renunciation (sannyas), Hinduism, and modernity, in religious studies and Asian studies through use of the concept of "experimental Hinduism.” Drawing on analytic models of “experimental religion,” and based on fifteen years of ethnographic fieldwork with Hindu renouncers (sadhus) in North India, the presentation explores sadhus' everyday experiences and ideas of the technological as a context for their reconfiguring of the dominant conceptual parameters of Hinduism (dharm) as a modern "technology" for the twenty-first century.
DeNapoli field work     DeNapoli field work     DeNapoli field work


This project advances a shift in the ways that scholars think about Hindu categories in religious studies through use of the concept of "experimental Hinduism.” Based on ethnographic fieldwork with Hindu renouncers in North India, the project examines the contexts and processes by which renouncers are reconfiguring renunciation and, by implication, Hinduism through their uses of communication technologies. Apart from discussing how, when, and why renouncers use technology, the project analyzes the narratives that they tell about technology and the teaching events they sponsor, in which they draw on authoritative texts to describe India's "ancient history of technology" and its role as a panacea for "the modern world." Research suggests that renouncers draw on technology not only to navigate the changing political, social, and cultural landscape of twenty-first century India, but also to facilitate the practice of renunciation in such a pivotal era of human history. 

Antoinette DeNapoli with Guru Ma Bhuvenshwari Puri (center), and students from the anthropology dept. at Delhi University. The group consisting of 27 undergrad students and two assistant professors came for the week to do fieldwork in a nearby village in Mewar district. The students are working on different topics, from folktales to tribal customs to political village structures, development, etc. Today, Guru Ma provided answers to their questions and talked a lot about village life in modern India, and modern Indian life. Antoinette also had the chance to talk to the group about her research on religion, renunciation, and technoscience.


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