Criminal Bandits and Nationalist Heroes. Ambiguous Gurus in the Discourses of the Sannyasi and Fakir Rebellion

31.03.2023 15:15 - 16:45

Amanda Lucia | University of California, Riverside / Visiting Fellow at King's College London

Today, there is a proliferate discursive field in India, and globally, that challenges the conventional authority granted to religious gurus. This critique is bolstered by the rise in secularism and liberalism, and also by the very real allegations, indictments, and convictions of modern gurus for a variety of criminal activities. Simultaneously, there is a recapturing of the guru as the quintessential hero of Indian nation, a religious figure positioned as a dharmic leader whose behavior is beyond reproach. This paper provides a genealogy of this discursive ambiguity, locating its emergence in the saṇnyāsī and fakīr rebellions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (1770-1790, with extensions 1761-1809). Lucia shows how saṇnyāsīs and fakīrs (nomadic bands of religious ascetics) first became enemies of the modern state because of their battles with the East India Company for taxation rights. This historical moment marks the event when the state became authorized to regulate, control, and persecute – criminalize – guru behavior. In opposition, the guru who became criminalized in the gaze of the colonial state transforms into a hero of the independent nation, because of, but also in spite of, his criminal actions.

Amanda Lucia is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California-Riverside. She is author of White Utopias: The Religious Exoticism of Transformational Festivals (2020), which intervenes at the intersection of whiteness, religious exoticism, and contemporary yoga spirituality. Her previous publications include Reflections of Amma: Devotees in a Global Embrace (2014), and numerous articles. She is also the Principal Investigator for the Religion & Sexual Abuse Project: Her current research focuses on celebrity gurus, and negotiations between religious authority and secular law.

Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde
Seminarraum 1 des Instituts für Südasien- ,Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde, Spitalgasse 2, Hof 2.7, 1090 Wien

Photo stills from “1770: Ek Sangram,” a new film based on the Bengali novel Ānandamaṭh, recounting the Saṇnyāsī and Fakīr Rebellion (expected release 2023)