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The Early Spread of Vedanta Societies: An Example of "Imported Localism"

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Sri Ramakrishna, in whose name the Ramakrishna Math and Mission were created, and Swami Vivekananda, the disciple largely responsible for their organization, have been recognized as early examples of the "global gurus" who, over the last hundred years or so, have attracted both Hindus and those not born into Hinduism. This article will examine the establishment of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in the United States and London. As a consequence of its attachment to the ideal of an emergent universal religion, but one linked to the claim that Hinduism is the "mother of religions," the movement has looked to the Hindu tradition for authoritative paradigms. This tendency has been matched by an expectation on the part of followers not born into Hinduism that the movement's belief and ritual activity should reflect practice in India. It will be argued that this pattern cannot be explained adequately in terms of existing theoretical understandings of the interaction between globalization and localization. Instead, it will be argued that Vivekananda's teaching led to the emergence of the related yet distinct phenomenon of "imported localism," which has been at odds with the ideal of a universal religion.


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