In this talk I shall bring into view modern Hinduism through the prism of power: how can we understand nineteenth-century religious communities in a world of shifting political authorities—the colonial state being just one of them? This question draws from my current book project about the creation of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, a Hindu devotional community, and the new forms of complex authority and subjectivity it advanced in the early nineteenth century in the region of Gujarat in western India. In doing so, the historical study not only understands the Sampradaya’s development in the context of the political-economy, it critically thinks about the political in relation to the devotional, prior to the era of nationalism. Taken together, these lines of analysis broaden the historical conversation beyond the colonial state as sites of power, and outline a more capacious, complex character of modern Hinduism.
Shruti Patel is Assistant Professor of History at Salisbury University, USA. She is an American Association of University Women American Postdoctoral Research Leave Fellow (2021-22) and a Visiting Scholar at Tufts University, completing her book project, The Play of History. Her publications investigate religious institutionalization, material culture and issues of historiography.