Transgressive Subversions? Female Religious Leaders in Hinduism

  • M Naidu

Abstract

As the eminent (female) anthropologist Mary Douglas (1966) pointed out, the “social body” constrains and contrives the way the physical body is perceived and obligated into performance. The physical experience of the body is in turn often modified by a clutch of regulatory and panoptic religio-social categories through which it is known and made to reflect a normative view of society. This paper wrestles with the assertion (DeNapoli 2013) that female gurus are transgressive bodies and irruptions into a predominantly malestream tradition of religious teachers. The paper works through the theoretical notion of intertextuality and attempts to deconstruct and read whether such irruptions (and interruptions) into the Hindu tradition are actually transgressive and gendered religious violations, or whether they work instead to discursively and differently perpetuate particular parochial and masculinised social constructions of “woman”. The paper thus probes what could be conceived of as “intertextual gaps” in order to examine the assertion that particular gendered enactments of the female gurus are subversive. The paper suggests instead that the gendered enactments appear to present ambivalences and ambiguities in renunciate discourses on gender and female agency.
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