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Unpacking the Labels "Hindu" and "Hinduism" in Singapore

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This paper problematizes the taken-for-granted use of the labels "Hindu" and "Hinduism" in accounts of Indian religion and culture, on the premise that these descriptions have histories and are themselves constructions. A term like "Hindu" and its various derivatives (including "Hinduism") have been transformed from their original regional and possibly ethnic meanings to carrying religious substance. More importantly, specific meanings are attributed to these categories, particularly through orientalist and Indological writings, and have structured definitions and empirical interpretations of Indian religiosity. These writings have tended to produce homogeneous, monolithic and essentialist conceptualizations of Hinduism. Relying on ethnography, this paper provides empirical evidence to deconstruct the labels "Hindu" and "Hinduism" and to demonstrate how a complex of meanings can be attached to these labels only by attending to the socio-cultural and political specificities of their context of practice.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology National University of Singapore


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