Love, Community, and Cow Urine

Garba_(dance)Constructing and maintaining a group, a community, requires significant effort, and at times that effort generates disagreements. In India, an organization announced this week that they were restricting admission to Garba, a traditional dance that is a major component of Navratri, a nine-night festival honoring the goddess. Only people recognized as Hindus can participate, banning specifically those identified as Muslim. A local leader of the VHP, an organization associated with Hindu nationalism, asserted, “Incidents of love jihad where Muslim boys lure and marry our Hindu girls happen at Garba. Our only aim is to protect our girls.” Continue reading “Love, Community, and Cow Urine”

Dignity or Freedom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHuman dignity and freedom are two values that many people reference in contemporary society. Like other terms that are useful in political and societal debates, people maintain competing definitions of these two terms. One person’s assertion of human dignity competes with another’s assertion of individual freedom.

Disputes over a festival at the Kukke Subrahmanya Temple in Karnataka, India, last month illustrate this malleability and subsequent tension. During this festival, one group of devotees (identified as high status Brahmins) consume a meal, and then the remaining food and their banana leaf plates are spread on the floor. Other devotees (identified as low status Dalits and indigenous “tribal” people) physically roll across the banana leaves. One understanding of the practice fits into the cultural constructions of status and purity, as the leftovers of a higher status person are pure, even purifying, while the leftovers of a lower status person are polluting. Because of the socially recognized status differential between those who eat and those who roll on the leavings, some identify this practice as an affront to the human dignity of the participants, as it reinscribes on each group their respective status. An op ed in the Bangalore Mirror concerning the practice related it to sati (burning of widows on a funeral pyre), declaring that this practice “is disgusting in this era of science and progress.” Continue reading “Dignity or Freedom”

What Came First, the Difference or the Similarity? Part 1

huffpostThe Huffington Post has a new article that opens with:

Hindus and Buddhists in Sri Lanka may have been divided through political strife over the years, but they have one important thing in common. Her name is Pattini to Sinhala Buddhists and Kannaki to Tamil Hindus, but she is one and the same goddess shared in religious practices by the two faiths.

And it closes with the following:

Most importantly, in her shared worship among Hindus and Buddhists Pattini-Kannaki is an ironic reminder of the parallel cultural traditions that may exist between groups divided along ethnic or political lines… Continue reading “What Came First, the Difference or the Similarity? Part 1”

Why Durkheim Was Right: On the Perils of Being a Young, Cute Shoplifter

Shoplifting Gum

In yet another entry from the annals of my parenting adventures, a particularly memorable event has always served me well as a reminder of Durkheim’s claim that the beliefs that we often perceive to be so central to our identities are often arrived at only after sufficient (and usually physical) conditioning creates them. Continue reading “Why Durkheim Was Right: On the Perils of Being a Young, Cute Shoplifter”

You Are What You Do

yogaHave you heard the latest in the “is yoga really religious?” debates?

One answer to the question of whether yoga really is a religious activity will soon be given by the Supreme Court in the country of its birth, India.

Last month, a pro-yoga group petitioned the court to make it a compulsory part of the school syllabus on health grounds — but state schools in India are avowedly secular. The court said it was uncomfortable with the idea, and will gather the views of minority groups in the coming weeks.

Continue reading “You Are What You Do”

Ritual Fail

ducksSeveral of our students and faculty members were at the College of Arts & Sciences’ tent this past Saturday for Homecoming, when Departments are invited to staff a table or two for a few hours and do something creative for fans and alumni attending the football game. There’s face painting and beanbag games, lots of candy and performances by students from the School of Music. While we can’t compete with the huge snakes that the Department of Biology always brings, we did have badly made balloon animals that were a big hit. Continue reading “Ritual Fail”