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A Place at the Multicultural Table

The Development of an American Hinduism

Prema A. Kurien

Publication Year: 2007

Multiculturalism in the United States is commonly lauded as a positive social ideal celebrating the diversity of our nation. But, in reality, immigrants often feel pressured to create a singular formulation of their identity that does not reflect the diversity of cultures that exist in their homeland. Hindu Americans have faced this challenge over the last fifteen years, as the number of Indians that have immigrated to this country has more than doubled.

In A Place at the Multicultural Table, Prema A. Kurien shows how various Hindu American organizations-religious, cultural, and political-are attempting to answer the puzzling questions of identity outside their homeland.  Drawing on the experiences of both immigrant and American-born Hindu Americans, Kurien demonstrates how religious ideas and practices are being imported, exported, and reshaped in the process. The result of this transnational movement is an American Hinduism-an organized, politicized, and standardized version of that which is found in India.

This first in-depth look at Hinduism in the United States and the Hindu Indian American community helps readers to understand the private devotions, practices, and beliefs of Hindu Indian Americans as well as their political mobilization and activism. It explains the differences between immigrant and American-born Hindu Americans, how both understand their religion and their identity, and it emphasizes the importance of the social and cultural context of the United States in influencing the development of an American Hinduism.  

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

This book is part of a larger project on ethnicity and religion among Indian immigrants and their children in the United States. Hindus are the largest religious group among Indian Americans, and the bulk of my work has focused on them, but I have also studied Christians and conducted a short study of Muslims. ...

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Chapter 1: The Transformation of Hinduism in the United States

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pp. 1-16

A typical weekend in a U.S. suburb sees several Hindu Indian families toting their children to educational groups known as bala vihars, some located in a temple or religious center, others at various member homes, to learn about Hinduism and Indian culture. A variety of Hindu organizations in the United States also run summer camps for the same purpose. ...

Part I: Popular Hinduism

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Chapter 2: Hinduism in India

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pp. 19-39

Although many of the beliefs and practices of Hinduism are at least several thousand years old (exactly how ancient is a controversial matter), the term “Hinduism” was only introduced in the late eighteenth century (Sweetman 2001, 219). The British colonialists who coined the term used it to refer to the religion and culture of the non-Islamic people ...

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Chapter 3: Transplanting Hinduism in the United States

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pp. 40-57

Hinduism in diaspora rarely manages to institutionalize the diversity and ritualization of Hinduism in India, leading one scholar to remark that “diasporic Hinduism is energetic in its own way but relatively monochromic when compared with the rich colors of religion in India” (Narayanan 2000, 768). ...

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Chapter 4: “We Are Better Hindus Here”: Local Associations

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pp. 58-85

It is a pleasant Saturday evening. In a Southern California suburb, a row of expensive cars is parked in front of an upper-middle-class house. Shoes and sandals are arranged neatly outside on the porch. Inside, the furniture has been cleared away from the large living room and sheets spread over the carpet. ...

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Chapter 5: The Abode of God: Temples

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pp. 86-116

The Hindu temple is the abode of God, and its construction also sacralizes the land on which it is built (Narayanan 1992, 163). Not surprisingly, we see Hindu temple spires rising up all over the United States as the number of Hindus in the country increases. ...

Part II: Official Hinduism

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Chapter 6: Forging an Official Hinduism in India: Hindu Umbrella Organizations

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pp. 119-139

Given the great diversity in the theology and practice of Hinduism, both in India and in the United States, who speaks for Hinduism? Who are the public representatives of Hinduism and what are they saying about the religion and its adherents? All religious communities draw boundaries between themselves and the members of other religions. ...

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Chapter 7: Forging an Official Hinduism in the United States: Hindu American Umbrella Organizations

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pp. 140-162

We have seen that official Hinduism in contemporary India is articulated and represented by umbrella Hindu groups that are part of the Sangh Parivar. Although many other Hindu groups exist in India, most are sectarian, regional groups that do not have the pan-Hindu platform or the resources of the Sangh Parivar affiliates. ...

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Chapter 8: Re-visioning Indian History: Internet Hinduism

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pp. 163-183

Ethnic groups try to construct themselves as natural, ancient, and unchanging sociocultural units that individual members owe loyalty to and have an obligation to uphold. The invoking of an idealized and generally sacralized past has thus been central in attempts to create a new or redefined ethnic identity (see, e.g.,Marty and Appleby 1991, 835). ...

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Chapter 9: Challenging American Pluralism: Hindu Americans in the Public Sphere

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pp. 184-210

Although the Hindu nationalist side of American Hinduism is often hidden, expressed in internal communications and events directed at the Hindu Indian community in the United States and around the world, it also has a “public face” that is shown to the wider American public. ...

Part III: The Relationship between Popular and Official Hinduism

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Chapter 10: Being Young, Brown, and Hindu: Student Organizations

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pp. 213-236

Post-1965 immigrants have been challenging established American conceptions of race and ethnicity, since many of them hail from areas of the world where groups are categorized on the basis of very different criteria. For instance, many Hispanics and South Asians resist being located on the black-white racial axis (Bailey 2001; Kibria 1998), ...

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Chapter 11: The Development of an American Hinduism

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pp. 237-248

I have explored two types of Hinduism in the United States: popular Hinduism and official Hinduism. By “popular Hinduism” I mean the transmission and practice of local religious and cultural traditions. Individuals learn about the attributes and characteristics of the deities and possibly some of the history and theology of their tradition ...


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pp. 249-258


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pp. 259-262


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pp. 263-284


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pp. 285-299

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About the Author

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Prema A. Kurien is an associate professor in the Sociology Department at Syracuse University. Her first book, Kaleidoscopic Ethnicity: International Migration and the Reconstruction of Community Identities in India (Rutgers University Press, 2002), was cowinner of the 2003 book award from the Asia and Asian America section of the American Sociological Association. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813541617
E-ISBN-10: 0813541611
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813540559

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2007