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Dynamics of Female Agency in Religious Settings in India

The panel shall serve as a forum for discussion of dynamics of female religious and ritual leadership in the Indian religious traditions. The aim is to facilitate conversations between scholars studying specific cultural, historical and geographical situations in which women acquire such agency.

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Convenors:

· Vinita Chandra Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) (Varanasi, India)
· Dr. Ute Hüsken South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University (Heidelberg, Germany)

Long Abstract

In most mainstream religious traditions, women are excluded from positions of religious and ritual leadership. Recently this situation has started to change: in an increasing number of contexts, women can and do undergo monastic and priestly education; they can receive ordination/initiation as Buddhist nuns and Hindu priestesses; and they are accepted as ascetic religious leaders. Still these processes largely take place outside of traditional religious institutions. Yet women are starting to establish new religious trends, occupying positions of religious leadership on par with men. In some cases, this process takes place in collaboration with male counterparts of the women leaders, in others against their will. In traditional settings, notably the gender of the female religious leaders constitutes the new element, which may be rejected, embraced, or accommodated. This panel sets out to look at the historical background, contemporary trajectories, and impact of the emergence of new powerful female agencies in these conservative religious traditions – a change, which paradoxically takes place while women’s rights in modern and liberal settings are being curtailed. Which strategies do the women employ that allow them to integrate in a tradition that excludes them? Who are the agents behind these processes? Who decides which elements of text and practice are essential and which are subject to negotiation? What is appropriated, or rejected by the new actors? How do the processes of negotiation unfold? What are the competing agendas of the diverse stakeholders, including men involved in the processes? We welcome papers around these, but also other questions on the theme.

Presentations