Political Deification in South Asia


How can we understand the processes through which political leaders, god-men, stars of all kinds, and big or small deities mingle together in the public sphere? And what are the consequences of deifying politicians, or opening politics to the gods?

In this episode, we discuss South Asian politicians who are treated like gods, and gods who enter politics. We focus, in other words, on political deification, a phenomenon that is in display across South Asia, but also beyond. In India, both national and regional parties work to reclaim the symbols of Hinduism, in order to compete with the discourse and politics of Hindu Nationalism, espoused by the incumbent government. As a result, both Hindu nationalism and its counter-cultures are now squarely placed in the domain of religious symbols, mythological narratives, and deified political figures. Similarly, deified and martyred figures of past conflicts now serve as national icons that cohere the polity in both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In this episode, Kenneth Bo Nielsen is joined by Moumita Sen, Michael Stausberg, Praskanva Sinharay and Sharika Thiranagama to discuss the phenomenon of political deification in South-Asia. Their discussion draws on a new thematic issue of the journal Religion, edited by Sen and Nielsen: Religion, volume 52, number 4.

  • Moumita Sen is an associate professr of Culture Studies at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion, and Society.
  • Michael Stausberg is editor in chief of the journal Religion and professor of the Study of Religion at the University of Bergen.
  • Praskanva Sinharay is a PhD scholar at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, and also a Research Consultant with the Election Commission of India.
  • Sharika Thiranagama is an associate professor of anthropology at Stanford University.

The Nordic Asia Podcast is a collaboration sharing expertise on Asia across the Nordic region, brought to you by the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) based at the University of Copenhagen, along with our academic partners: the Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Turku and Asianettverket at the University of Oslo.

We aim to produce timely, topical and well-edited discussions of new research and developments about Asia.

About NIAS: http://www.nias.ku.dk/

Transcripts of the Nordic Asia Podcasts: http://www.nias.ku.dk/nordic-asia-podcast

Your Host

Kenneth Bo Nielsen

Kenneth Bo Nielsen is a social anthropologist based in Oslo, and one of the leaders of the Norwegian Network for Asian Studies.

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