April 11, 2016

On sacralization of everyday life, religious identity, Citizenship, and Democracy in Contemporary India (Nandini Gooptu in Modern Asian Studies )

New Spirituality, Politics of Self-empowerment, Citizenship, and Democracy in Contemporary India

(Modern Asian Studies / Volume 50 / Issue 03 / May 2016, pp 934-974)


India has seen a recent upsurge in spiritual practices promoted by an entrepreneurial breed of leaders and organizations. Their primary preoccupation is not to preach religious faith and belief or to promote ritual practice, but to provide guidance on psychological and physical well-being, happiness, and a healthy lifestyle. They offer strategies for healing and re-energizing, and advocate self-management and self-development as tools of both material advancement and mental contentment. Spiritual practices emphasize individual agency, personal empowerment, and reliance on one's own ‘inner’ resources, and valorize the autonomous, self-governed citizen as the protagonist of a modern and modernizing nation. While being reminiscent of the sacralization of everyday life and the rise of the ‘self-ethic’ in New Age spiritual movements in the West, Hindu versions of new spirituality in India draw upon religious traditions and construct a narrative of laicization of the esoteric and people-centric spirituality, consonant with the prevalent democratic zeitgeist. This article explores the implications of these developments for political subjectivity, religious identity, and notions of citizenship and democracy.