A talk by Lucinda E. G. Ramberg (Cornell)
"Dalit Futures and Sexual Modernity in South India"
Co-sponsored by the Ambedkar Initiative at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society
Abstract: Following the call of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, many Dalits have converted to Buddhism as means of escape from the stigmatization attached to “untouchability.” Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic research, I consider the sexual politics of this movement in relation to the temporality of stigma. In particular, I investigate the widely held notion that women in particular find it difficult to break from ancestral religion through interviews with Buddhist women who continue to keep ancestral gods and ethnographic descriptions of weddings in which Buddhist and Hindu rituals are mixed. Drawing on conversations within feminist and queer theory about the distribution of social life and death through reproductive futurism as well as critiques of representations of native others as stuck in the past within postcolonial theory, I elaborate how Dalits work to elude the time set for them by others.
Lucinda Ramberg is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Cornell University. Her research projects in South India have roots in longstanding engagements with the politics of sexuality, gender and religion. Her first book, Given to the Goddess: South Indian Devadasis and the Sexuality of Religion (2014) explores vernacular religion as gendered resistance and caste critique. Her current book project turns to the revival of Buddhism in South India and questions of religious conversion in relation to projects of caste radicalism, social transformation, and sexual politics. In 2021-2022 she is resident in the South Asia Institute as Adjunct Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life at Columbia University, and 2020 ACLS/Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Research Fellow in Buddhist Studies