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Veins of Devotion

Veins of Devotion: Blood Donation and Religious Experience in North India

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Veins of Devotion
    Book Description:

    According to public health orthodoxy, blood for transfusion is safer when derived from voluntary, nonremunerated donors. As developing nations phase out compensated blood collection efforts to comply with this current policy, many struggle to keep their blood stores up.

    Veins of Devotion details recent collaborations between guru-led devotional movements and public health campaigns to encourage voluntary blood donation in northern India. Focusing primarily on Delhi, Jacob Copeman carefully situates the practice within the context of religious gift-giving, sacrifice, caste, kinship, and nationalism. The book analyzes the operations of several high-profile religious orders that organize large-scale public blood-giving events and argues that blood donation has become a site not only of frenetic competition between different devotional movements, but also of intense spiritual creativity.

    Despite tensions between blood banks and these religious groups, their collaboration is a remarkable success storyùthe nation's blood supply is replenished while blood donors discover new devotional possibilities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4596-7
    Subjects: Religion, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-36)

    In 2002 the spiritual head, or guru, of the Beas branch of the Radhasoami movement was given a guided tour of the newly established Rotary blood bank in Delhi. According to the blood bank’s director, Dr. N. K. Bhatia, the guru “was extremely happy, he blessed us all, he had some snacks with us, he even took a Coke.” Later the guru granted a private audience to a member of the blood bank team. At its conclusion, he presented her withprashad, sanctified substance imparted to devotees in token of the guru’s divine favor, often consisting of sweets, flowers, and...

  5. 2 Generative Generosity
    (pp. 37-49)

    This chapter concerns the re-production of donated blood in the blood bank through a technological procedure called blood component therapy and explores connections that have developed between this technology and some Indians’ ideas about the reproduction of families and the calculability of spiritual credit. It demonstrates that familial narratives are not restricted to the intense dramas of replacement donation but, perhaps paradoxically, are also highly significant in the voluntary context, that is, in situations where donors are not donating for immediate family purposes.

    In demonstrating how kinship reckoning, spiritual merit, and technology come together in powerful and unexpected ways in...

  6. 3 The Reform of the Gift
    (pp. 50-76)

    Modern Hinduism, it has been argued, is a fractured world consisting of “a curious medley of ancient monuments and half-formed new structures” (Madan 1987: 15). This chapter explores in detail the nature of this medley, arguing that one set of highly significant, and yet markedly undertheorized, “half-formed new structures” are those existing rituals, occasions, and in particular giving mechanisms, that have been or are in the process of being “made social”—that is, rechanneled or redeployed “intelligently” (Roberts 2006: 88) and reflectively according to a teleology of social production. Conventional modes of giving—money to temples, food to the dead,...

  7. 4 Devotion and Donation
    (pp. 77-104)

    One of the most striking features of blood donation practices in contemporary India is the embrace of voluntary blood donation as a key focus of organized spiritual service by major devotional orders associated with the north Indian sant tradition. These orders have emerged over the last fifteen to twenty years as some of India’s highest-profile proselytizers of blood donation as a critical act of service to humanity, world, and nation. The two devotional movements on which I focus—the Sant Nirankari Mission in this chapter and the Dera Sacha Sauda in chapter 5—are both presided over by living saints,...

  8. 5 Blood Donation in the Zone of Religious Spectacles
    (pp. 105-131)

    The “Medical Marvels” section of theGuinness Book of World Records, 2005 includes such entries as most fetuses in a human body, most surviving children from a single birth, most operations endured, and most hand amputations on the same arm. Also included is the achievement of a north Indian devotional order in collecting most units of blood in a single day: the 12,002 450ml units collected by the Dera Sacha Sauda, says the book, “is the equivalent of 67 bathtubs of blood!”¹

    Through the Indian media and forms of government communication, blood donation has over a number of years been...

  9. 6 Utility Saints and Donor-Soldiers
    (pp. 132-148)

    The aims of this chapter are to complement my account in the previous chapter of blood donation as a nonviolent form of protest through a deepening of the exploration of the relationship between blood donation and violence/nonviolence, and to reflect more fully on the special role played by gurus in the field of blood donation and in Indian society more generally as “gateways” to universal philanthropy and other forms of “modernist” practice. Focusing on further aspects of the biomedical/religious interoperability through which a growing proportion of India’s voluntarily donated blood originates, this chapter underlines the pivotal role of guru figures...

  10. 7 The Nehruvian Gift
    (pp. 149-168)

    The physical incorporation by recipients of corporeal gifts of organs and blood is in a literal sense integrative inasmuch as it enacts a physical connectivity between persons. In India as elsewhere, this connectivity is often subjected to political readings. What I seek to show in this chapter is that in addition to integrative physical connection (i.e., acts of transfusion), the practical processes involved in the gathering and distribution of units of donated blood in India have come to be viewed by various donors, doctors, and other actors as providing anticipatory visions of an integrated nation. Like the rituals of transformation...

  11. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 169-184)

    To conclude I begin by reviewing the themes of time-space distanciation and Nehruvian thinking, and demonstrate a significant connection between them. In my discussion of “donor-soldiers” in chapter 6, I noted that blood donation enables Sant Nirankari and Dera Sacha Sauda devotees, from a distance, to play an intimate role in the nation’s military affairs. The distanciating function of blood donation, through which simultaneous convergence and separation is achieved between different entities, is vital here. The potentially fraught commitment of the patriotic devotee of soldierly provenance to the values of ahimsa is made experientially practicable by way of this corporeal...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 185-204)
    (pp. 205-208)
    (pp. 209-226)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 227-234)
  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-236)