Fighting at the Margins: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Invisibility of Black Hindus
Panel:47 | Rethinking Relationships Between Anthropology, History and Theology in South Asian Religious Studies
Timeslot:07/26 | 18:30-18:50 UTC+2/CEST
Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000) famously addressed the mythic center of modernity, Europe, as “hyperreal.” In Hindu studies, India is another “hyperreal.” Despite portrayals of Hinduism as global and transnational, most narratives perpetuate racial-religious paradigms in favor of an imagined West (i.e. white Europeans and Americans) and an imagined East (i.e. South Asians and the South Asian diaspora). The trend significantly overlooks African Hinduisms (e.g. Ghanananda Swaraswati in Ghana), Hinduisms in the African diaspora (e.g. ashram of jazz musician Alice Coltrane), and even Indians of African descent (Siddis) who migrated, voluntarily and involuntarily, to India during the Indian Ocean slave trade. This paper reflects upon an interdisciplinary method used to sufficiently tackle the marginality and invisibility of black Hindus. First, my study examines the racial-religious paradigms in 20th and 21st century representations of Hinduism, alongside black theology’s essentialized black religious subject to answer why this invisibility persists. Then, to rewrite black agents into Hinduism, I, through ethnographic fieldwork and social network analysis, trace black Hindus’ receptions, transformations, and transmissions of Hindu teachings, and practices in the U.S. By examining discourses in academic histories and theologies, the subjects of the ethnography become germane to dismantling biases and marginalities in South Asian Religions and African and African American studies. Rather than the ethnography reasserting black Hindus’ marginality, the interdisciplinary approach further demarginalize the subject by decolonizing the field.