Theses Doctoral

Diasporic Desires: Making Hindus and the Cultivation of Longing

Sippy, Shana L.

This dissertation explores the means by which Hindus in the United States theorize and cultivate desires in the midst of the larger project of making Hindu subjectivities for themselves and their children. It suggests that the cultivation of desire—while significant in creating any type of subjectivity anywhere—is a centerpiece of making identities for Hindus in the diaspora. From its very beginnings, in reference to Jews, the language and sentiment of diaspora have always been associated with desires. Specifically, there is the longing for the homeland, which most diasporic communities have cultivated. For many Hindus, the idea of India as a desired ‘homeland’ is also fundamental, but for them, as throughout history, the desires associated with diasporic experiences have been enacted in a range of ways and they have always been about more than simply place. Hindu parents and community members are engaged in the development of other types of desires—moral-spiritual, theological, narrative-historical, “sanctioned” romantic and familial, gastronomic, and material. Many contemporary practices of Hindus in the diaspora—educational, ritual, representational, political, and consumer—revolve around the inculcation and fulfillment of desires, for both children and adults. Desire is a recurrent trope, articulated differently by parents, teachers, community leaders, married couples, students, young adults, devotees, and children. Not only do people express their own desires, but they negotiate, facilitate or hinder the desires, both real and perceived, of others.
Through an examination of various Hindu realms and practices, I trace some of the types of Hinduism that are forming in the United States, as well as the affective cultures and desires that seem to animate them. The chapters explore: the development, content and cultures of Hindu supplementary educational programs; new modes of Hindu exhibition as ritual and devotional practices, and as reflections of collective desires about Hindu representation; the role of consumer cultures—particularly the place of ethnic stores and practices of shopping; the rise in forms of Hindu advocacy, particularly with respect to the concomitant desires to control representations of Hinduism and Indian history within educational and other public spheres; the place of Hindu nationalism and the motivations of participants in a variety of Hindu spaces; and the expression of ‘strategic citizenship’ on the part of a Hindu community seeking public recognition and acceptance.

My hope is that this work not only sheds light on processes at work within contemporary Hindu communities in the U.S., but helps us to consider larger human questions about the development of religious selves and sensibilities, the shaping of identities, the cultivation of belonging, the negotiation of public and civic spheres, and the politics and poetics of nationalism and self-representation. The ways people locate themselves and are located by others, both consciously and unconsciously, are often artifacts of desire, and it is through desire that various identifications are negotiated.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Hawley, John S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 2, 2018