Accepted Paper:

Building religious homeland together: relations between Bengali and immigrant communities in West Bengal, India  

Author:

Teruko Mitsuhara (University of California, Los Angeles)

Paper short abstract:

This paper investigates the power relations between Bengali and foreign communities and highlights how interactions between the next generation of devotee children defy and continue cultural and linguistic hierarchies in Mayapur, West Bengal.

Paper long abstract:

A growing body of scholarship has explored Whiteness and power asymmetries in the Global South, depicting a bleak continuance of racial, class, and linguistic divides between foreigner elites and local populations (Hindman 2013; Fechter 2007; McIntosh 2014). By contrast, in Mayapur, a Bengali village in India, children of religious immigrants cross such divides in shared spaces such as the temple, school, and neighborhood.

Different to economic migration, the foreigners living in Mayapur migrated for religious reasons—to live in the birthplace of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a medieval Bengali religion dedicated to worship of Krishna. In the 1960s this religion was exported to England, Russia, and other Western countries with the mission to convert foreigners and ultimately build a religious homeland in Mayapur. In the West it transformed into a new religious movement known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which now has millions of international as well as Indian devotees who remit money to complete this spiritual city-making project.

Does this mean that their Indian guru's successful exportation of "theory from the South" (Comaroff/Comaroff 2012) has resulted in a peripeteia of the common narrative as Westerners fulfill his mission, using their funds and manpower to create an Indian spiritual city? Or are they merely engaging in a type of Orientalism, projecting their own imagination of Vedic India onto rural Bengal?

This paper investigates the power relations between Bengali and foreign communities and highlights how interactions between the next generation of devotee children defy and continue cultural and linguistic hierarchies.

Panel P048
Moving beyond the colonial? North-South mobility, power and post-colonial encounters [ANTHROMOB]