Accepted Papers:

From religious knowledge to social status and economic success: neoliberal self-making projects amongst French Hindus in La Réunion  


Natalie Lang (University of Göttingen)

Paper Short Abstract:

French Hindus in La Réunion reveal an intrinsic relation between their religious learning projects and wishes for social mobility. This paper highlights the tension between aspirations toward preferred selves expected in neoliberal societies, and structural constraints that the latter entail.

Paper long abstract:

This paper reflects upon the relation between religion, social mobility, and recognition. It is based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork amongst Hindus in the French overseas department La Réunion, an outermost region of the European Union in the Indian Ocean.

"To advance in one's life" is the wish that Reunionese Hindus express over and over again. As descendants of South Indian indentured laborers who came to La Réunion in the nineteenth century and did not have much contact with India afterwards, some socially aspiring Reunionese Hindus started to orient themselves toward India in the 1970s with the aim to acquire knowledge about Hindu religion. Combining their perceived expectation to create successful neoliberal selves with the felt expectation to know about their origins, they engage in optimizing self-making projects wherein learning about Hindu religion becomes a major quest of their lives. Reunionese Hindus' biographies suggest an intrinsic relation between their religious learning projects and their wishes for social mobility. But cultural capital in the form of religious knowledge can only lead to social mobility when recognized by others, notably by the French state.

Reunionese Hindus' strive for religious knowledge highlights the tension between an imagined development through continuous self-optimization to social status and economic success, and the structural constraints of this neoliberal French society. These constraints include a difficult job market, but also the fact that creative self-making needs (official) recognition from others.

Panel P132
Social mobility in the neoliberal age: practices, relations, expectations, and desires