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Viratha: Conceptualizing Femail Religious Agency_Susan McNaughton

Viratha: Conceptualizing Femail Religious Agency_Susan McNaughton

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Published by yorku_anthro_conf
Abstract: Through the context of fieldwork will be among diasporic Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus in Toronto, ON this paper explores the ways female involvement in Hindu religious practices affects conceptions of self, moral agency and politics that in turn underpin commitments to such practices.
One of my questions is whether other traditions, namely Indian discursive religious practices, might have their own resources for imagining an ethic that “respects dissent and honours the right to adhere to different religious or non-religious convictions?” (Mahmood 2003). What if the separation of modernity into a material realm, on the one hand, and an ideological realm is not so simple to perform at any given moment, let alone to stabilize and sustain?

Keywords: Agency, religion, Hindus, affect, emotion, the self
Abstract: Through the context of fieldwork will be among diasporic Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus in Toronto, ON this paper explores the ways female involvement in Hindu religious practices affects conceptions of self, moral agency and politics that in turn underpin commitments to such practices.
One of my questions is whether other traditions, namely Indian discursive religious practices, might have their own resources for imagining an ethic that “respects dissent and honours the right to adhere to different religious or non-religious convictions?” (Mahmood 2003). What if the separation of modernity into a material realm, on the one hand, and an ideological realm is not so simple to perform at any given moment, let alone to stabilize and sustain?

Keywords: Agency, religion, Hindus, affect, emotion, the self

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Published by: yorku_anthro_conf on Aug 31, 2011
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his paper addresses the ways that emaleinvolvement in Hindu religious practices aectsconceptions o sel, moral agency and politics thatin turn underpin commitments to such practices.I would like to re-visit the notions o aect andemotion that inorm the bhakti or devotion o emale temple participants through the lens o Spinozistethics to open up the ways in which modes o subjectivation‘stick’ to and are constitutive o a eld in which religiousrepresentations acquire their identity and truthulness.Female participation in Hindu deity worship embodies valuesthat arm an ethos o ethical sel-sustainability and virtuoussel-cultivation which poses a challenge to the valourizationo secular liberal individualism (Mahmood 2006, Deeb 2006).Normative assumptions about human nature hold that aith-centred movements constrain individual sel-expression in anumber o ways. First, autonomy, it is claimed, is a matter o intentionality - all human beings have an innate desire orreedom and will seek to assert autonomy when allowed todo so and also that human agency may embody actions thatchallenge normative social conventions and not necessarilyuphold them. From this perspective to evoke ideas o ‘piety’or ‘virtue’ is to evoke a view o individual autonomy whichadheres to these signs through past orms o association. Iargue that it is important to question the history by which wehave come to make such assumptions and the eect o suchhistories between bodies, objects and signs that emphasizesecular notions o resistance, autonomy, and sel-ulllment. The context o my eldwork will be among diasporic SriLankan Tamil Hindus here in Toronto many o whom havebeen either directly or indirectly aected by the civil war in SriLanka. One o the main eects o this war has been a massivedisplacement o the Tamil population to Canada and Torontoin particular. The war came to a military but not politicalend in May 2009 leaving many in the diaspora o Toronto indistress as to the ate o amily and riends. Ongoing humanrights violations against Sri Lankan Tamil civilians continuesto reverberate throughout the Tamil population in Torontowho are dismayed and disillusioned to see Canada stand idlyby on this issue which aects so many Canadian citizens. There is an increasing public perception that sae havensno longer exist and that peace-time violence may be asdebilitating as that o war (Das 2008). The ‘Tamil problem’ is
Viratha: Conceptualizing Female Religious Agency
Dr. Susan McNaughton
Graudate o Social Anthropology, York University, Toronto, ON
 
Abstract
 Through the context o eldwork will be amongdiasporic Sri Lankan TamilHindus in Toronto, ON thispaper explores the ways emaleinvolvement in Hindu religiouspractices aects conceptionso sel, moral agency andpolitics that in turn underpincommitments to such practices.One o my questions is whetherother traditions, namely Indiandiscursive religious practices,might have their own resourcesor imagining an ethic that“respects dissent and honoursthe right to adhere to dierentreligious or non-religiousconvictions?” (Mahmood2003). What i the separationo modernity into a materialrealm, on the one hand, andan ideological realm is not sosimple to perorm at any givenmoment, let alone to stabilizeand sustain?
Keywords
Agency, religion, Hindus, aect,emotion, the sel 
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agency can be conveyed through and supportedby religious piety. Such agency is also a orm o political subjectivity that interacts dynamicallyand continuously with dominant normsand values, multiple orms o accountabilityas well as bodily modes o becoming.Discursive religious practices such as Hinduworship rituals are bodily activities that arewritten in movement. Such practices are capableo reversing the reactive status o the body, o enhancing the body’s capacities, enlarging itspowers o becoming, intensiying the body’ssensations, returning power and orce to thebody rom which it is derived. Knowledgehas its genealogy in corporeality that cannotgrasp anything in its totality; the body itsel is a multiplicity o competing and confictingorces (Grosz 1994: 128). It is here that we canthink through the body in terms o becoming,assemblages, and relational connections o non-ordered organisms. This is to think aboutthe body in such a way that recongures therelationship between sel and other, thatemphasizes the productive aspect o dierenceand whereby bodily boundaries are blurred.While the sel may have a genealogy, or a story o how it came to the present, there is no necessitythat the structures o the present subject willpersist or must be such a way at the present. Acritical ontology o ourselves, through historicalanalysis can help us to examine our limitsand experiment with moving beyond them.Eorts to rethink autonomy on the basis o the social conception o selves also requires areconguration o the dichotomy o individualityand agency on one hand, and sociability andthe collectivity on the other. Liberalism’sunique contribution is to link the notion o sel-realization with individual autonomy sothat the process o sel-realization becomesequated with the
ability 
to realize the desireso one’s ‘true will’. By this account, in order oran individual to be ree her actions must be theconsequence o her own desire, rather than o custom, tradition or social coercion. It is here thatSpinoza’s denition o the individual in terms o one’s condition o interaction with others, thatis to say, one’s power to aect and be aectedholds a powerul alternative to a tradition o being cast as one o potential ‘terrorist’ activityin Canada with little consideration given to theproblematic social and cultural eects or thediaspora community. The important point isthat is this confict has not been only a domesticmatter. While ‘civil war’ in Sri Lanka technicallyoccurred within the borders o the state,transnational ties generated by asylum seekersand other migrants are part and parcel o thecurrent confict (Cheran 2000, Tambiah 1986).In the ace o human rights violations it isstriking that the normative claims o liberalconceptions such as tolerance are taken at acevalue and no attention is paid to the struggles,contradictions, and problems that these ideasactually embody. Given this raught history oneo my questions is whether other traditions,namely Indian discursive religious practices,might have their own resources or imaginingan ethic that “respects dissent and honours theright to adhere to dierent religious or non-religious convictions?” (Mahmood 2003). Whati the separation o modernity into a materialrealm, on the one hand, and an ideologicalrealm is not so simple to perorm at any givenmoment, let alone to stabilize and sustain? Andto what extent does such an account continueto cast religious revival solely within the terms o Western modernity, now globalized and hindera view o the emergence o new ormations andontologies? An alternative perspective wouldbe to move away rom attempts to characterizeparticular movements and towards a moreepistemological line o inquiry that investigatesthe theoretical lenses through which religiousmovements are viewed (Bracke 2008). How mightone start by acknowledging the insight thatmodes o knowing imply specic ways o being?Feminist critiques take aim at conceptions o autonomy and agency that value the ideas o sel-governance and a deeply ingrained ideologyo individualism in which “individualism is to beachieved by erecting a wall o rights between theindividual and those around him” (Armstrong2009:46). Post-secular theorists such as SarahBracke (2008), Rosi Braidotti (1991) and LaraDeeb (2006) regard the relational approaches toautonomy ound in orms o religious-belongingdemonstrate, on the contrary, the notion that
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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009
 
‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009
engagements that involves the generation o energy and possibility. For him “aect identiesthe strength o the investment o emotionalenergy which anchors people in particularpractices, meanings, and identities as wellas a means o directing people’s investmentsin and into the world” (Grossberg 1992: 82).But perhaps aect also introduces a necessarypause, a hesitancy in the “way in which wehabitually dwell among our concepts o culture,o everyday lie or o the inner” (Das 1998: 172).Pausing also allows or a closer examinationo the ways that both aect and emotionrelate rst to an ontology that Braidotti calls‘nomadic subjectivity’, a pragmatic philosophyo engagement as well as sel-sustainability;secondly to think rom the perspective o the ways in which negative emotions such asshame, guilt, pain can act as major incentivesto, and not only obstacles, to change. Finallythe value o these discourses might also allowor alternative ways to negotiate the ever-present and thorny issues o representation andagency, which have important methodologicaland epistemological implications.Spinoza had an understanding o the body whichhe regarded neither as a locus o a conscioussubject nor as an organically determined object.His radical observation was that the state o the individuality in any particular moment is aunction o its own constitution as well as externalactors such as other bodies both animate andinanimate. Against essentialist notions o ‘being’Spinoza views individualities as historical, socialand cultural weavings o biology. Thus aect inthis sense reers to the individual’s capabilityto maximize its potentialities and possibilities(Grosz 1994:12). He is committed to a notiono the body (and indeed the subject) as totaland holistic engaged in processes o growthand transormation. The body is dened bywhat it could do, the transormations it couldundergo, what or who it can link with and howit can prolierate its capacities - in other wordsfow, movement and orce. By this account theaective body cannot be reduced to the merecultivation o ‘good habits’ but instead concernsthe cultivation o a particular type o sociality. Thisview represents an important departure rom‘abstract individualism’ confating autonomywith atomic isolation” (Armstrong, 2009:45).Heidi Ravven (2009) writes that themisconception o autonomy goes back to theongoing and barely challenged hold o theAugustinian notion o reewill upon our standardconceptions o the human. Her critique pointsto the hegemony o a Christian ethics whichderives its moral absolutes rom a notion thatollowing scriptural injunctions is a means o ullling moral law. The problem that becomesimmediately apparent here is how and who is tointerpret? This is a perspective she argues thatshows traces o the (Latin) Christian theologicaltradition which still plagues not only theologybut in a secularized version also anthropologyand our standard and pervasive commonunderstandings about ethics even today. The philosophy o Spinoza opens up anotherperspective one which provides a powerulinsight into ethics and in turn how this mightinfuence discourses o emotion and aect(Deleuze 1978). Deleuze’s reading o Spinozapoints to paradoxical ontologies. On one handaect exists in the virtual and relates to “bodilyresponses which are in excess o conscious stateso perception and point to a kind o embodied‘visceral’ perception that precedes perception(Massumi 2002: 9). On the other, Rosi Braidottispeaks o aect as “bodily-material causeswhich are themselves products o a pure fowo becoming” (2006: 140). Aect enables thedesire or in depth transormations o the kindso subjects we have become. In other words,aect is either, the “innite eld o virtualityas an immaterial eect o interacting bodies orthe bodies themselves emerge and actualizethemselves rom this eld o virtuality” (Zizek 2008:366). But how can we acknowledge aectin a way that is not outside social meaning butprovides a orm o critical engagement with “thenature o the social”? (Hemmings 2005: 565).Lawrence Grossberg (1992) links aect andemotion closely together and views aectthrough what could be called energetic‘investments’ that encompass a range o ideasthat link passion, volition and commitment. There is a reciprocal quality to aective
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