Panel no. 46 - Taming the Sacred: Anthropology of Renunciation and Non-Renunciation in South Asian Traditions


Title Dr First name Mariko Last name Hamaya
Institution Lancaster University City Lancaster Country GB


Title Dr First name Eijiro Last name Hazama
Institution name Tokyo University City Tokyo Country JP


Panel title

Taming the Sacred: Anthropology of Renunciation and Non-Renunciation in South Asian Traditions

Panel abstract

Renouncers, or monks and ascetics who have left the world behind, are widely revered and given exceptional status and authority in South Asian traditions, since they are considered the creators of values (Dumont 1988). However, as Madan (1987) points out that caste and renunciation are antithetical, there are longstanding conflicts between renouncers and householders over their prestige and power. Pervasive movements of this-worldly asceticism in contemporary society are dismantling this boundary, whereas otherworldly politics are utilising religious narrative and practice to suit their political agenda. On the other hand, the institution of renunciation is going through transitions; some female ascetics, who are mostly excluded from the sacred domain in their religious orders, exercise their authority not only in India but all over the world (Pechilis 2004). How will these current streams of this-worldly asceticism transcend the boundary between renunciation and non-renunciation, or the sacred and secular? This panel aims to explore the interaction between renunciation and non-renunciation in modern and contemporary South Asian traditions, focusing on celibacy and sexuality. Generally, ascetics are expected to observe celibacy, particularly sexual abstinence, which works as the boundary between renouncers and householders. There are, in reality, various interpretations and practices to control and sublimate sexual impulses and emotions according to sects, regions, and individuals (Hamaya 2019). This panel will discuss how the boundary between the sacred and secular can be subverted or reinforced through philosophy, history, and ethnography of this-worldly asceticism and other relevant phenomena, which question the dominant ideology of renunciation.

IUAES Commission