Religion in Diaspora - The Functions of Hindu Congregationalism in the United States of America


Term Paper, 2010
14 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Organizations of Popular Hinduism in the American Diaspora
2.1 Local worship groups (satsangs)
2.2 Educational groups for children and teenagers (bala vihars)
2.3 Hindu Temples in the United States of America

3. Conclusion

1. Introduction

In her book A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism Prema Kurien states 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 and the characteristics of the receiving society.”[1]

Only recently, starting in the early-1990s, has the paramount importance of immigrant religion in the host country been acknowledged by scholars in the field of Diaspora Studies.[2] In terms of the Hindu Diaspora of the United States, research conducted by Diana L. Eck[3], Pyong Gap Min[4] and Prema Kurien[5] has been groundbreaking.

Why and how has Hinduism changed in the American setting? In the U.S. organizations of Popular Hinduism have been created that do not exist in India. These include for example Hindu student organizations, local worship and singing groups (satsangs), as well as educational groups for children (bala vihars).[6] Practices in Hindu Temples built in the U.S. have also undergone some modifications when compared with traditional Hindu temples in India.[7]

What are the functions of those local associations and the new practices in Hindu Temples? Were they perhaps founded to build an ethnic community and to preserve Indian traditions and culture in a foreign environment? Are they a means to resist assimilation into the American host country society? Or does Hinduism, quite to the contrary, serve as a vehicle for actually becoming American?[8]

To resolve all those questions outlined above I am going to analyze select organizations of Popular Hinduism in the U.S., starting with an examination of the local worship and children educational groups. Then I will turn to the discussion of the possible functions of the new practices in Hindu temples in the United States. I will end my paper with a short summary of my findings.

2. Organizations of Popular Hinduism in the American Diaspora

The phrase Popular Hinduism was coined by Steven Vertovec. Later on it was adopted by Prema Kurien. In his book The Hindu Diaspora: Comparative Patterns Vertovec points out that there are different kinds of Hinduisms practiced in the United States. According to him they all could be subsumed under two different categories: on the one hand Popular Hinduism and on the other hand Official Hinduism.[9] Kurien clarifies that in opposition to Official Hinduism, which “refers to the articulation of Hinduism by leaders of organizations that claim to speak for all Hindus”[10] Popular Hinduism comprises of “the beliefs and practices of the masses of Hindus in the US”.[11]

A unique characteristic of Popular Hinduism in the United States is the development of Congregationalism[12] which involves group worship activities including the whole family, a practice not seen in traditional Indian Hinduism.[13] In the following I will analyze Congregationalism in the United States and find out the possible functions for it in the Hindu American Diaspora.

2.1 Local worship groups (satsangs)

Satsangs (congregations of truth) are local Hindu worship groups that usually assemble monthly, or to a lesser extent more often. The group meetings take place in the homes of the member families. An average satsang comprises of approximately fifty to seventy Hindu families, but attendance varies due to the constantly changing location of group gatherings.[14]

Members of a specific satsang usually share the same cultural and linguistic background: they emigrated from the same parts of India.[15] One example is the Organization of Hindu Malayees (OHM) established in 1991.[16] This satsang was founded by and consists today only of Hindu immigrants from the south Indian state of Kerala, in which the language Malayalam is spoken.[17]

The typical course of a satsang meeting could be divided into two different phases: first a pooja (worship) is performed by lay readers, participants of the satsang themselves. It includes prayers, chants and the singing of devotional songs, called bhajans. The discussion of sacred literature, such as for example the Bhagavad Gita, is also a vital part of the worship session.

After the worship a typical Indian meal is served and eaten together by the attendants of the satsang, during which members talk to each other and exchange news about jobs, vacations, the education of their children etc..[18]

Why might Hindus in the American Diaspora be motivated to attend such a Hindu worship group? Since the foundation of the United States, in the main a nation of immigrants, religion and ethnicity has been a crucial factor in defining and constructing one’s own identity.[19] Living in today’s U.S. society entails for the immigrant to constantly “explain the meaning and content of their religion and culture that, in their country of origin, they might have taken for granted.”[20] In the alien country Hindus are regularly forced to explain their religious practices and beliefs to American friends, colleagues and last but not least their own children, already born and bred in the United States.[21]

[...]


[1] Kurien, Prema A.. A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 2007, p. 40.

[2] Stepick, Alex. “God Is Apparently Not Dead: The Obvious, the Emergent, and the Still Unknown in Immigration and Religion.” Immigrant Faiths: Transforming Religious Life in America. Eds. Karen I. Leonard, Alex Stepick, Manuel A. Vasquez, and Jannifer Holdaway. New York: AltaMira Press, 2006, p. 11.

[3] Eck, Diana L. “Negotiating Hindu Identities in America.” The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada, and the United States. Eds. Harold coward, John R. Hinnels, and Raymond./ Eck, Diana L.. New Religious America: How A "Christian Country" Has Become The World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation. San Francisco: Harper, 2001.

Brady Williams. New York: State University of New York Press, 2000. 219-238.

[4] Min, Pyong Gap. “Immigrants’ Religion and Ethniscity: A Comparison of Korean Christians and Indian Hindu Immigrants.” Bulletin of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies 2, 2000. 121-140.

[5] Kurien, Prema A.. Multicultural Table

[6] Kurien, Prema A.. Multicultural Table, p. 1.

[7] Kurien, Prema A.. Multicultural Table, pp. 86.

[8] Kurien, Prema A. “Becoming American by Becoming Hindu: Indian Americans Take Their Place at the Multicultural Table.” Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration. Eds. R. Stephen Warner and Judith G. Wittner. Philadelphia: temple University Press, 1998. 37-70.

[9] Vertovec, Steven. The Hindu Diaspora: Comparative Patterns. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.

[10] Kurien, Prema A.. Multicultural Table, p. 9.

[11] Kurien, Prema A.. Multicultural Table, p. 9.

[12] Karen I. Leonard. “Introduction.” Immigrant Faiths: Transforming Religious Life in America. Eds. Karen I. Leonard, Alex Stepick, Manuel A. Vasquez, and Jannifer Holdaway. New York: AltaMira Press, 2006, p. 11.

[13] Kurien, Prema A., “ ‘We are Better Hindus Here’: Religion and Ethnicity Among Indian Americans.” Religions in Asian America: Building Faith Communities. Eds. Min, Pyong Gap and Jung, Ha Kim, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2002, p. 107.

[14] Kurien, Prema A.. Becoming American by Becoming Hindu, p. 38.

[15] Kurien, Prema A.. Multicultural Table, p. 58-59.

[16] Kurien, Prema A.. Becoming American by Becoming Hindu, p. 38-39.

[17] For another example see Kerala Hindu Organization in: Kurien, Prema A.. Multicultural Table, p. 58-59.

[18] Kurien, Prema A.. Multicultural Table, p. 58-59.

[19] Kurien, Prema A.. “Mr President, Why Do You Exclude Us From Your Prayers: Hindus Challenge American Pluralism” A Nation of Religions: The Politics of Pluralism in Multireligious America. Ed. Stephen Prothero. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006. p. 124-125. see also: Greeley, Andrew M.. “Religion and Politics in America”. World Religions in America. Ed. Neusner, Jacob. Louisville and London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. 302-313.

[20] Warrier, Maya: “Diaspora”. Studying Hinduism. Key Concepts and Methods. Eds. Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby. New York: Routledge, 2008. p. 92.

[21] Kurien, Prema A.. Mr President , Why Do You Exclude Us From Your Prayers, p.124-125.

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Details

Title
Religion in Diaspora - The Functions of Hindu Congregationalism in the United States of America
College
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg  (Institut für Anglistik)
Course
The Indian Diaspora in History, Literature and Film
Grade
1,3
Author
Year
2010
Pages
14
Catalog Number
V150980
ISBN (eBook)
9783640626588
ISBN (Book)
9783640626809
File size
442 KB
Language
English
Tags
Religion, Diaspora, USA, Hinduism, Congregationalism, United States of America, Popular Hinduism, satsangs, bala vihars, Hindu Diaspora
Quote paper
Melanie Buettner (Author), 2010, Religion in Diaspora - The Functions of Hindu Congregationalism in the United States of America, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/150980

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