Review of Religion, Secularism, and Ethnicity in Contemporary Nepal
In 2007, following the ten-year People’s Movement that led to Nepal’s king relinquishing power, the former Hindu kingdom of Nepal became a secular republic. It was not clear, however, what this meant for its ethnic and religious minorities, its Hindu majority, and the state. To what degree would religion remain at the core of the state apparatus and identity? Would Nepalis become less religious? What would be the future of Nepal’s religious communities and traditions both inside and outside the dominant high-caste Hindu fold?
Religion, Secularism, and Ethnicity in Contemporary Nepal, an edited volume by David N. Gellner, Sondra L. Hausner, and Chiara Letizia, developed out of a 2012 workshop at the University of Oxford to “reflect on the trajectories Nepal would take in a state divested of its officially religious status” (xi). The resulting volume is a collection of methodologically and topically varied yet consistently superb case studies by scholars with extensive field experience and/or textual expertise in Nepal. Together, the essays demonstrate the continued salience, malleability, and pervasiveness of religion in Nepal, whether at the textual, ritual, symbolic, or real politik level. The volume provides rich examples, across contexts, of how religion is front and center in processes and problems involved in navigating the challenges of contemporary life and the forces of modernity. The essays here illustrate that religion remains indisputably central to people’s adaptations to pressures and changes wrought in the aftermath of civil war, migration, and urbanization. The essays also reveal a fascinating disconnect between state-level and other official discourses surrounding secularism and the lived religious lives of Nepali communities and individuals. [excerpt]
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Sijapati, Megan Adamson. Review of D. N. Gellner, S. L. Hausner, and C. Letizia, eds., Religion, Secularism, and Ethnicity in Contemporary Nepal (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016) in Pacific Affairs 91, no. 2 (2018): 418-20.