Sacred Play: Ritual Levity and Humor in South Asian Religions

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Selva J. Raj, Corinne G. Dempsey
SUNY Press, Jan 12, 2010 - Religion - 236 pages
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Frivolity isn’t always frivolous—sometimes it can be sacred. Sacred Play uncovers levity and playfulness in a variety of South Asian traditions where one might least expect to find it: in the heart of ritual. While stories recounting the antics of various South Asian deities circulate widely, this enlightening book intentionally departs from divinity-centered humor to focus on the playfulness of humans and their religious practices. This grassroots levity is both serious and lighthearted; it can be highly scripted or spontaneous and cast in shades of light or dark humor. Case studies of Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist rituals examine instances of levity that challenge social or religious norms, in which mischievous deities inspire similar behavior among their devotees, and where playful competition incites serious consequences. Sacred Play explores how piety and levity can complement and complicate one another, enriching our understanding of both.

  

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Contents

Ritual Levity in South Asian Traditions
1
Playful Breaks with Convention
19
2 Serious Levity at the Shrine of St Anne in South India
21
Ritual Levity Society and Agriculture
37
Primary Marriage among the Newars of Nepal
57
Challenging Convention through Play in Upstate New York
71
Religious Humor and Divine Intimacy
89
6 Friendship Humor Levity and Love in a Hindu Womens Ritual Tradition
91
Varieties of Levity in Contemporary Sinhala Practice
123
Edging Out the Competition
141
9 Playing with Durga in Bengal
143
Humor and Ritual Critiquein South Asian Muharram Rites
161
11 A Catholic Charismatic Healer at Play in North India
185
12 Response
205
Contributors
217
Index
221

The Pain of a Ritual Joke
107

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About the author (2010)

Selva J. Raj (1952–2008) was Chair and Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College. His books include Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia, also published by SUNY Press, and South Asian Christian Diaspora: Invisible Diaspora in Europe and North America.

Corinne G. Dempsey is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. She is author of Kerala Christian Sainthood: Collisions of Culture and Worldview in South India and The Goddess Lives in Upstate New York: Breaking Convention and Making Home at a North American Hindu Temple. Together Raj and Dempsey coedited Popular Christianity in India: Riting between the Lines and Miracle as Modern Conundrum in South Asian Religious Traditions, both also published by SUNY Press.

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