What Mexico Can Teach Us about Hinduism

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 9:10 AM
New York Ballroom East (Sheraton New York)
Ananya Chakravarti, Georgetown University
Conceptions of Hinduism have largely conformed to a surprisingly persistent paradigm that bifurcates it into two strands: a supralocal “tradition,” overwhelmingly associated with brahminism, and the fragmentary, particular and “local” forms of religiosity. The modern genealogy of this paradigm can be traced to the application of Robert Redfield’s thesis regarding great and little traditions, based on his fieldwork in Mexico, to the South Asian case. Since the Redfield thesis came to be rejected in the very site of its first articulation, a careful examination of the evolution of Mexican historical anthropology offers lessons for South Asianists on how to think their way out of this paradigm. In this light, I argue that reconceptualizing the study of Hindiusm based on advances in Latin American anthropology holds great methodological promise, particularly with regard to reorienting our spatial frameworks in analyzing Hinduism. I will present a demonstration of such a method using the French Jesuit Etienne de la Croix’s Discurso sobre a vida do Apostolo Sam Pedro [Discourse on the life of the Apostle Saint Peter], first published in 1629. This text, composed in Marathi for the consumption of local converts in Portuguese Salcete, is largely devoted to a refutation (refutatio/qhandanna) of “the errors of the gentiles.” It thus provides a remarkable account of the cosmological landscape of Salcete, including beliefs and practices that existed outside brahminical religion that are often invisible in the archives of South Asian religion in this period. Such an archival resource, which eschews the imposition of the binary and arbitrary framework of great and little traditions upon Goan cosmology, prompts a mode of understanding Hinduism beyond the dichotomous view that prevails in the field. Moreover, viewed in this theoretical light, the text allows us to see the spatial networks that subtend and maintain Hindu “tradition” in new ways.
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