Special Issue "Dalits and Religion: Ambiguity, Tension, Diversity, and Vitality"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 1 September 2019

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Cosimo Zene

Emeritus Professor in the Study of Religions and World Philosophies, School of History, Religions and Philosophies, SOAS, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Sq., London WC1H 0XG, UK
Website | E-Mail
Interests: Social Anthropology (Gift-giving); Continental Philosophy; World Philosophies; Inter-philosophical Dialogue; Study of Religions; Subalterns; Dalits; Vernacular Religions; A. Gramsci; B. R. Ambedkar
Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Meena Dhanda

Professor in Philosophy and Cultural Politics, School of Humanities, Faculty of Arts, University of Wolverhampton, Molineux Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1DT, UK
Interests: Empirically informed social; moral and political philosophy; Philosophy of anti-racism and anti-casteism; Feminist Philosophy; Dalit Identity; Caste Prejudice and Discrimination; Punjabi Dalits

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

There is an extensive literature regarding the ‘Myths of Origin’ of many Dalit groups. These myths recount the story of a (supposedly) glorious past of the group, and a subsequent ‘fall’ which relegates them to the present-day status, as Untouchables, thus confirming the ideology of those Hindu ‘sacred texts’ , such as the Manusmriti (The Laws of Manu), which sanction untouchability and are habitually quoted in support of it. In these myths, often the reason for the ‘fall’ is attributed to religious leaders or priests in the group, but also frequently to women. On the other hand, many Dalit groups have themselves produced a set of religious counter-myths, so as to oppose the narrative of the ‘fall’, thus refusing the label of untouchability in favour of the word ‘Dalit’, a self-ascribed designation, which reveals the self-consciousness of being oppressed and subjugated, literally ‘crushed’. These divergent positions in themselves would be sufficient to explain the ambiguity, often underlined by scholars, which surrounds Dalits’ attitude towards religion. While the first stance underscores Dalits’ exclusion from religion, the second strives towards and reaffirms their belonging to it.

However, while both these narratives operate within the sphere of ‘religion’, a third line of inquiry, resting on a more secular stance, dismisses a religious explanation in favour of a political dimension.  We could label this ‘the politics of Dalit religion’, in which political reflection and activity is paramount when addressing the topic and providing answers. At the same time, we must not disregard a further (and fourth) line of inquiry which, although supporting political engagement, still sees religion as a viable and indeed necessary component of Dalit life. This was the choice made by the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar and his fellow Mahars who converted to Buddhism.  Given the predicament of Untouchables within the Hindu milieu, conversion to other religions has, over time, been an almost obvious choice for some of them, thus creating tensions between those who converted and the Hindu majority, and in particular the Hindu leaders. If on the one hand conversion seems to have provided a viable escape from untouchability and an improvement for many, especially through education, on the other hand many Dalit converts still lament the lingering of those attributes of untouchability, mostly associated with ‘impurity and pollution’, such as humiliation and shame.  As a result, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim Dalits seem to share the lot of their ‘Hindu’ Dalit brothers and sisters. This, however, does not prevent Dalits of any religious denomination from expressing their religiosity in the most of creative ways, or indeed from producing remarkable theoretical, literary and theological reflections on their experience.

This special issue of the journal Religions invites scholars involved in the (broadly defined) field of Dalit Studies to address the questions raised above and many others which, no doubt, need to be tackled, be it from a disciplinary, inter or trans-disciplinary standpoint. The existing literature on this topic is at times disseminated in more general discussions on the Dalit experience from many disciplinary perspectives, in particular within Humanities and Social Sciences, including Anthropology, History, Philosophy, Literature and Literary Studies (comprising Dalit novels), Theology and Mission Studies, Politics, Law, Economics, Music, Performing Arts, and the fields of the Study of Religions and Gender and Feminist Studies. This special issue encourages colleagues to offer creative and challenging ways to (re)interpret, from both disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, the relationship between ‘Dalits and Religion’, focusing in particular on its ambiguity, tension, diversity and vitality.

Prof. Dr. Cosimo Zene
Prof. Dr. Meena Dhanda
Guest Editors

PS. Prospective Authors should ignore the note below referring to APCs (Article Processing Charges) since the papers published in this special issue are free of charge.

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charges (APCs) of 550 CHF (Swiss Francs) per published paper are partially funded by institutions through Knowledge Unlatched for a limited number of papers per year. Please contact the editorial office before submission to check whether KU waivers, or discounts are still available. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • Dalits and Religion
  • Untouchability
  • Exclusion
  • Conversion
  • Ambedkar
  • Politics of Religion
  • Dalit Theology

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
Religions EISSN 2077-1444 Published by MDPI AG, Basel, Switzerland RSS E-Mail Table of Contents Alert Logo copyright Steve Bridenbaugh/UUA
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