The xenophilic possibilities of porosity: Theurgical connections between gurus and expat spiritual practitioners in India
Tuhina Ganguly (Shiv Nadar University)
Paper short abstract:
Based on fieldwork among Western spiritual practitioners in Pondicherry, I explore xenophilia in terms of the porous self, whereby strangers and unfamiliar places emerge as active, relational agents in the expats' constructions of selfhood through narratives of karma, connection, and calling.
Paper long abstract:
Academics are often highly critical of Western spiritual seekers experimenting with or practicing Eastern spiritualities such as yoga and meditation, Zen Buddhism, and Taoism, where such engagements are seen to be forms of cultural appropriation and consumption. Without overlooking the problematics of contemporary spiritual seeking, this paper proposes that contemporary spiritualities might offer the possibility of xenophilic engagements with hitherto strange(r) people and places. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among Western spiritual practitioners living in Pondicherry for at least a decade, this paper explores the expat practitioners' narratives of 'karmic connection', 'being called' and 'surrendering' with respect to their gurus and India. Using Charles Taylor's notions of the porous self, I argue that porosity opens the self to theurgical connections with gurus across cultural and geographical boundaries. Can these openings to divinity (where the guru is seen to be the very embodiment, not simply the instrument, of the divine) and the construction of selfhood through the intertwining of human-divine agency be thought of as xenophilic? Further, does such selfhood mitigate the strangeness of the local but culturally distant environment? By focusing on the socio-cultural insularity of Sri Aurobindo ashram, located in Pondicherry, with which many (but not all) of my interlocutors are associated, I point to the limits of the xenophilic possibilities of porosity. Nevertheless, insofar as porosity straddles the strange and the familiar, in the context of my study, it invites us to rethink modes of relationality in the contemporary quest for fullness across borders.
Moving between self and other: Navigating hierarchy and alterity in cosmopolitical encounters