Special Issue "Dalits and Religion: Ambiguity, Tension, Diversity and Vitality"
A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 September 2019).
Interests: Social Anthropology (Gift-giving); Continental Philosophy; World Philosophies; Inter-philosophical Dialogue; Study of Religions; Subalterns; Dalits; Vernacular Religions; A. Gramsci; B. R. Ambedkar
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
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
In the note below, prospective Authors should ignore information referring to APCs (Article Processing Charges) since the papers published in this special issue are free of charge.
Manuscript Submission Information
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- Dalits and Religion
- Politics of Religion
- Dalit Theology