Marks of devotion: The construction and politics of religious identity through external signs
The panel explores the historical circumstances in which signs worn on the body have been constructed to generate religious identity and how they are utilized in religio-political discourses. To reach a broader understanding of the processes involved, we invite papers from different disciplines.
· Nina Mirnig Austrian Academy of Sciences (Vienna, Austria)
One of the many ways to create group identity amongst a religious community is the use of external signs that are worn or inscribed on the body. This might involve special clothing or hair dress, ornaments, accessories, branding or make-up. Such signs may mark the result of transformation rituals, may be taken up temporarily as part of a particular observance, or simply serve to distinguish certain ranks and social groups within a religious community. These external religious signs are at times utilized in religio-political discourses for purposes of propagation, differentiation or exclusion of others. This panel is dedicated to identifying the historical circumstances in which such external signs have been explicitly drawn upon to negotiate competition or the contesting of power.It will also investigate the different avenues through which these material representations of religious identity are communicated. How are religious symbols constructed and contextualized in particular historical contexts? Which mythical, ritual and historical narratives are used for conferring meaning to these marks? How does the interpretation of such external religious symbols change according to political and historical circumstances and when can we identify an “invention of tradition”? When are such markers constructed by the community, when are they imposed by “others”? Exploring the different ways through which these discourses are negotiated – be it the ritual arena, scholastic debates, or narratives expressed in literature or through visual and performative art – the panel welcomes papers from different disciplines and religious foci, covering historical as well as modern case studies.
- Being branded or not being branded? Branding as an identity marker in Śrīvaiṣṇavism (Marion Rastelli)
- Can you tell by the name? Sectarian Self-Expression by the Muslims of Lucknow. (Zaheer Abbas)
- Devotion Unmarked: the reinterpretation of the four life-stages in the Vṛṣasārasaṃgraha (Csaba Kiss)
- Dialogical Signs and Symbols of Embrace: The Dao (sword) of the Sangtam Nagas (Brainerd Prince)
- External marks of early Śaiva and Śākta ascetics (Judit Törzsök)
- Hermeneutics of Exclusion: Ritual Branding and Scholastic Practice in Sixteenth Century Vedānta (Jonathan Peterson)
- Managing sectarian diversity in the colonial world : Indo-Persian visual handbooks on ascetics and their sectarian marks (1790-1860) (Jean Arzoumanov)
- Marks of Austerity: Communitas and Contestation among Sabarimala Pilgrims in Kerala (George Pati)
- Siddharāma turns his coat: The changing religious affiliation of a Śaiva yogin in premodern Deccan (Shubha Shanthamurthy)
- The construction of Śaiva identity in the early medieval period: the Śivadharmaśāstra on external signs of the devotee (Nina Mirnig)
- The disappearing ‘mark’ of the ascetic: Pāśupata discourse on the Iiṅgin (Travis Smith)