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Becoming Religious in a Secular Age$
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Mark Elmore

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780520290532

Published to California Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520290532.001.0001

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Managing Religion

Managing Religion

Government, Gūrs, and Gods

(p.133) Chapter Four Managing Religion
Becoming Religious in a Secular Age

Mark Elmore

University of California Press

This chapter investigates an anxiety that emerged as the state government asserted itself in more areas—such as regulating festivals, limiting the authority of temple officers to decide local disputes, and publishing works to explain “authentic Himachal.” Many villagers were uneasy with the blurring boundaries between state power and the power of deities. Who gets to speak for a deity, and in which contexts? In Himachal, each deity has its own gūr, a person who is specially trained, adheres to certain behavioral standards, and knows how to invite the deity to enter his body. These gūrs are the lifeblood of the community, communicating the desires and displeasures of the deity, predicting rain, and warning of calamities. Even as scientific rationalism has become prominent in the region, very few people questioned the legitimacy of these individuals to speak on behalf of deities. But it is increasingly true that the scope of their statements is circumscribed, in effect if not always in locution. Extensive interviews with these mediums as well as with members of their communities show how anxiety over the extent of the gūr's ability to speak clarifies the boundaries between the deity's sphere and that of the state as well as a growing nostalgia for a time when society was governed by gods and not the secular state.

Keywords:   Himachal Pradesh, Himachali religion, state power, deities, gūrs

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