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A Place at the Multicultural Table

A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism

Prema A. Kurien
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    A Place at the Multicultural Table
    Book Description:

    Multiculturalism in the United States is commonly lauded as a positive social ideal celebrating the diversity of our nation. But, in reality, immigrants often feel pressured to create a singular formulation of their identity that does not reflect the diversity of cultures that exist in their homeland. Hindu Americans have faced this challenge over the last fifteen years, as the number of Indians that have immigrated to this country has more than doubled.

    InA Place at the Multicultural Table, Prema A. Kurien shows how various Hindu American organizations--religious, cultural, and political--are attempting to answer the puzzling questions of identity outside their homeland. Drawing on the experiences of both immigrant and American-born Hindu Americans, Kurien demonstrates how religious ideas and practices are being imported, exported, and reshaped in the process. The result of this transnational movement is an American Hinduism--an organized, politicized, and standardized version of that which is found in India.

    This first in-depth look at Hinduism in the United States and the Hindu Indian American community helps readers to understand the private devotions, practices, and beliefs of Hindu Indian Americans as well as their political mobilization and activism. It explains the differences between immigrant and American-born Hindu Americans, how both understand their religion and their identity, and it emphasizes the importance of the social and cultural context of the United States in influencing the development of an American Hinduism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4161-7
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. CHAPTER 1 The Transformation of Hinduism in the United States
    (pp. 1-16)

    A typical weekend in a U.S. suburb sees several Hindu Indian families toting their children to educational groups known asbala vihars,some located in a temple or religious center, others at various member homes, to learn about Hinduism and Indian culture. A variety of Hindu organizations in the United States also run summer camps for the same purpose. Hindu student organizations have now sprung up in colleges and universities around the country, and members earnestly debate the “central beliefs of Hinduism” or the joys and burdens of being Hindu in the United States. Unlike temples in India, which are...

  5. PART I Popular Hinduism

    • CHAPTER 2 Hinduism in India
      (pp. 19-39)

      Although many of the beliefs and practices of Hinduism are at least several thousand years old (exactly how ancient is a controversial matter), the term “Hinduism” was only introduced in the late eighteenth century (Sweetman 2001, 219). The British colonialists who coined the term used it to refer to the religion and culture of the non-Islamic people of the Indian subcontinent, the “Hindus.” The term “Hindu” had first been used by Persians (at least as early as 500 B.C.E.) to designate the people living in the region of the river Indus and had subsequently been adopted by the Muslim rulers...

    • CHAPTER 3 Transplanting Hinduism in the United States
      (pp. 40-57)

      Hinduism in diaspora rarely manages to institutionalize the diversity and ritualization of Hinduism in India, leading one scholar to remark that “diasporic Hinduism is energetic in its own way but relatively monochromic when compared with the rich colors of religion in India” (Narayanan 2000, 768). Steven Vertovec, in his book on the Hindu diaspora around the world (2000, 21–24 ), points out that Hinduism has taken different forms in the countries where it has been transplanted, depending on the interaction between the social and cultural characteristics of the particular group of immigrants (their caste, region, and class background) and...

    • CHAPTER 4 “We Are Better Hindus Here”: LOCAL ASSOCIATIONS
      (pp. 58-85)

      It is a pleasant Saturday evening. In a Southern California suburb, a row of expensive cars is parked in front of an upper-middle-class house. Shoes and sandals are arranged neatly outside on the porch. Inside, the furniture has been cleared away from the large living room and sheets spread over the carpet. Arranged against the center of the wall that everyone faces is a makeshift shrine with pictures of various Hindu deities, several of whom are adorned with fresh garlands of flowers. Tall brass oil lamps with flickering flames stand on either side of the shrine. Baskets containing fruit and...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Abode of God: TEMPLES
      (pp. 86-116)

      The Hindu temple is the abode of God, and its construction also sacralizes the land on which it is built (Narayanan 1992, 163). Not surprisingly, we see Hindu temple spires rising up all over the United States as the number of Hindus in the country increases. According to the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, in 2005 there were 714 American Hindu temples or centers, with new ones are being built every year. I conducted fieldwork at the Malibu temple in Southern California over a period of a year with some help from a research assistant, Sujatha Ramesh, who was working...

  6. PART II Official Hinduism

    • CHAPTER 6 Forging an Official Hinduism in India: HINDU UMBRELLA ORGANIZATIONS
      (pp. 119-139)

      Given the great diversity in the theology and practice of Hinduism, both in India and in the United States, who speaks for Hinduism? Who are the public representatives of Hinduism and what are they saying about the religion and its adherents? All religious communities draw boundaries between themselves and the members of other religions. How do the spokespersons of Hinduism do this? As we will see, defining what Hinduism and Hindus are about has become particularly salient today both in India and in the Hindu diaspora.

      A variety of spokespersons for Hinduism are present in the United States. Many Hindu...

    • CHAPTER 7 Forging an Official Hinduism in the United States: HINDU AMERICAN UMBRELLA ORGANIZATIONS
      (pp. 140-162)

      We have seen that official Hinduism in contemporary India is articulated and represented by umbrella Hindu groups that are part of the Sangh Parivar. Although many other Hindu groups exist in India, most are sectarian, regional groups that do not have the pan-Hindu platform or the resources of the Sangh Parivar affiliates. Since the Sangh Parivar developed in the context of Hindu nationalism, this is the official Hinduism that it promotes. Official Hinduism in the United States is articulated by Sangh Parivar affiliates as well, but also by a variety of independent Hindu umbrella organizations. This chapter examines the rise...

    • CHAPTER 8 Re-visioning Indian History: INTERNET HINDUISM
      (pp. 163-183)

      Ethnic groups try to construct themselves as natural, ancient, and unchanging sociocultural units that individual members owe loyalty to and have an obligation to uphold. The invoking of an idealized and generally sacralized past has thus been central in attempts to create a new or redefined ethnic identity (see, e.g., Marty and Appleby 1991, 835). History becomes the anchor that grounds conceptions of a primordial peoplehood and an authentic culture. The resuscitation of ancient grievances also justifies current negative treatment of other groups. History therefore is seen as much more than an academic matter—it becomes central in defining the...

    • CHAPTER 9 Challenging American Pluralism: HINDU AMERICANS IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE
      (pp. 184-210)

      Although the Hindu nationalist side of American Hinduism is often hidden, expressed in internal communications and events directed at the Hindu Indian community in the United States and around the world, it also has a “public face” that is shown to the wider American public. Mobilizing to defend a beleaguered Hindu identity has become an important way for Indians from a Hindu background to counter their relative invisibility within American society and to obtain recognition and resources as American ethnics, as we have seen (Kurien 2004; Lal 1999; Mathew and Prashad 2000; Rajagopal 1995). For some years now, these Indian...

  7. PART III The Relationship between Popular and Official Hinduism

    • CHAPTER 10 Being Young, Brown, and Hindu: STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS
      (pp. 213-236)

      Post-1965 immigrants have been challenging established American conceptions of race and ethnicity, since many of them hail from areas of the world where groups are categorized on the basis of very different criteria. For instance, many Hispanics and South Asians resist being located on the black-white racial axis (Bailey 2001; Kibria 1998), and Caribbean immigrants challenge conventional American definitions of blackness (Butterfield 2004). The implications of the new immigration for traditional American notions of race and ethnicity have been the subject of several studies (Bean and Stevens 2003, 224–249; Smelser,Wilson, and Mitchell 2001). Children of the post-1965 immigrants (termed...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Development of an American Hinduism
      (pp. 237-248)

      I have explored two types of Hinduism in the United States: popular Hinduism and official Hinduism. By “popular Hinduism” I mean the transmission and practice of local religious and cultural traditions. Individuals learn about the attributes and characteristics of the deities and possibly some of the history and theology of their tradition through the stories, legends, and scriptures of popular Hinduism. Family members, local groups, and temple priests teach Hindus how to worship and supplicate the deities by means of prayers, devotional songs, and ritual practices and also teach them the ethics, prohibitions, and prescriptions necessary to live a moral...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 249-258)
  9. Glossary
    (pp. 259-262)
  10. References
    (pp. 263-284)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 285-300)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-302)