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Technology and Religion in Historical and Contemporary South Asia: Spaces, Practices and Authorities (2/2)

Panel Chair: Knut Axel Jacobsen | Tuesday, August 25, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

This panel explores intersections between technology and religion in South Asia in the past and at the present and how various forms of techno-religious intersections transform and open up for new religious practices, discourses, communities, and institutions. Technological developments at different times in history may include new machines and technologies in a broader sense (e.g. printing technology) and new means of transportation (e.g. railways, cars) and communication (e.g. telephone, radio, TV, mobile phones, and the internet) that have facilitated new spaces of religion. The techno-religious intersections generate several questions about authority and power, the politics and poetics of identity, community and place, and how religious agency, information and experience are mediated, commodified, and adjusted to demands of societies. With specific focus on South Asian contexts and religions this panel invites papers that discuss various empirical and theoretical aspects of how technological innovations create, alter and negotiate religious spaces, practices and authorities.

Andreas Johannson

A cry for help – Sri Lankan Muslim organization’s discourse on social media

The overall aim of this paper is to describe and analyze the creation of identity in social media for Muslim organizations in post-war Sri Lanka. What role does social media have among Muslim organizations in Sri Lanka? The use of social media among different Muslim organizations reflects what happens in society. In contemporary Sri Lanka Sinhala nationalistic organizations like Bodu Bala Sena have made a great impact on the debate on what role religion should have in the country. Bodu Bala Sena claims that Islam is a non-Sri Lankan element in the Buddhist majority society. This shows that the role of a political organization in a minority situation is complex with various kinds of discourse to relate to.

Social media has been good at countering Islamophobia in Sri Lanka. The use of social media is only one of many self-defense strategies the Muslim community uses. For example, these self-defense strategies can also be seen in political forums, like the parliament, and in ecumenical discussions among theologians. The focus in this study is to see how Muslim organizations use social media in relation to ethnicity (Muslim), nation (Sri Lankans), and state (the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka) in their reaction towards organizations like Bodu Bala Sena. The materials that will be analyzed are pictures posted on the Facebook pages of three Muslim political organizations.

Anna Bochkovskaya

Counter-scriptures Online: Promoting Punjabi Deras’ Ideologies

In recent decades, several deras, or religious/quasi-religious communities, in Punjab and in the neighboring states have acquired or developed their own holy books as “alternatives” to the Guru Granth, the core text of Sikhism. The most controversial ones include the Bhavsagar Granth, which was compiled by and for Bhaniarawala Baba of Ropar in 2001 and immediately banned by the Punjab Government, and the Amrit Bani Guru Ravidas which was announced in 2010 as a separate scripture for Ravidassis. Another version of the counter-texts is the “Spiritual Q&A Book” published by Dera Sacha Sauda in 2011. Focusing on the online representation of these “alternative” scriptures, the paper discusses various methods used by the most influential deras in Punjab to represent and promote their ideologies and practices through the Internet.

Hindol Sengupta

How Technology and the Free Markets Changed the Hindutva Project

The paper studies the impact of the use of social media and mobile phone technology to bridge caste divide between upper caste Hindus and so-termed lower castes in relatively new Hinduism movements in their attempts to create a cohesive Hindu society and fill traditional caste chasms. Economic empowerment has been key in bridging the caste divide as, for instance, has been shown by Devesh Kapur, Chandra Bhan Prasad, Lant Prichett and D. Shyam Babu in Rethinking Inequality: Dalits in Uttar Pradesh in Market Era Reform (Economic & Political Weekly, 2010). Now the use of technology is adding a new layer to this social transformation. The paper will specifically look at the work of the Hindutva Abhiyan which is led by a metallurgical engineer-trained at the Indian Institute of Technology and who works as an IBM risk management consultant, and also leads a Hindu spiritual order, and his use of SMS, mobile voice messages and Facebook as neutral tools to bridge the caste divide in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh and in Mandla, Chattisgarh, both deep into the interior of rural forest heartland of central India. The paper analyses how technology is being used to deliver the same messages on the essence of the Ram Tatva (lessons from the Ramayana), Krishna Tatva (lessons from the life of Krishna in the Mahabharata) and the Bhagvad Gita Tatva (lessons from the Bhagvad Gita) among lower caste groupings. It analyses how the medium integrally becomes part of the message as similar access to technology brings about a sense of social democratization and caste equanimity, albeit often temporarily to begin with, which is then used to give core messages of a caste-free Hinduism leading to signs of attitudinal change among recipients.


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