‘Aspirations for Religion? Translocal Urbanism, Secularization, and the Cacophony of Religious Performance in Mumbai’ by Prof D. Parthasarathy, November 4

Prof D. Parthasarathy (ICCR Visiting Chair in India Studies, FASS South Asian Studies Programme and IIT Bombay) will give a seminar which will be followed by a launch of the book Cleavage, Connection and Conflict in Rural, Urban and Contemporary Asia (Springer 2013)(link to editor’s proof of the Introduction chapter here), which he co-edited with A/P Tim Bunnell and A/P Eric Thompson. The volume was published as part of the ARI-Springer Asia Series, and Professor Robbie Goh, one of the Editors-in-Chief of that book series, will speak as part of the launch. The event will take place on Monday November 4th from 2:30 to 4 pm.

About the seminar

Aspirations for Religion? Translocal Urbanism, Secularization, and the Cacophony of Religious Performance in Mumbai

This talk will outline the findings from an ongoing study of the topography of religious performance in contemporary Mumbai that both links to and distinguishes from larger economic and political struggles in the city.  The exercise is part of an attempt to re-conceptualize the city and the urban as analytical categories. It is embedded in a basic theoretical assumption that cities and the urban in India cannot and ought not to be studied in contradistinction to the rural, that rural-urban transitions and networks, and the presence of peasants of various hues in the city are intrinsic to any understanding of the Indian urban. Using a broad methodological approach of focusing on informality and public spaces, the larger study focuses on religion, politics, and the economy, from the perspective of peasant migrants to the city who are not sufficiently or substantially linked to the city to leave either a lasting imprint on space, or to determine spatial outcomes.  But they are yet involved in place-making, creating informal places – locations where one can observe and study translocal peasants and their social actions.

An understanding of religion in the city is located within a larger critique of the process of secularization. It is argued that community performances of religion are material in themselves, and are reflective of the social class and social rank of these communities. A fundamental position of this talk is that people aspire for religion, aspire to perform religion in the form of rituals, pilgrimages, and other performances. The idea of the aspiration for religion suggests a more immanent as opposed to a transcendental notion of religious practice, but also that a change in economic and political status enhances the aspiration for religion, even as they also enhance the capacity for religious performance. For peasants in a de-industrialized metropolis with an ambiguous and uncertain idea of their futures, religious performance has little meaning in terms of a desired future, but perhaps constitutes an unwillingness and / or an inability to anticipate a stable and secure future; religious performance is an end in itself, an affirmation of who they are. Making a plea to take religion seriously, it is suggested that the cacophonous performance of religious rituals does not just indicate dissonance, but may point to a larger process of secularization linked to an emerging translocal urbanism originating in the rural-urban flows and co-presence of peasant households and communities in the rural and the urban.

Increased religiosity in Mumbai reflects the freshness and vigour, as well as spatio-temporal continuities in religious practices; the public-ness of religion in the city is an outcome of the process of secularization for lower castes in India engendered by urban freedoms, the freedom to aspire, the capacity to aspire, and, reflective of the meanings of and solidarities engendered by religion within castes and communities, of religion as faith among the laboring classes, among lower castes in India who come to the city. Urban performances of faith are translocal in the way they link diverse spaces, they involve flows between spaces, and there is a mutual and iterative place making that is gendered, classed, and caste-ised.

Venue: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore, AS7 Shaw Foundation Building, Level 6, Research Division Seminar Room (06-42). To get to the Research Division Seminar Room, walk straight past the restrooms after exiting the elevator, then past the glass door on the left, and one door on the right. The seminar room is in front of you at the end of the corridor.

Light refreshments will be provided.

Please RSVP using this link. View the poster here.

Email me at fasrda at nus edu sg if you have any questions.