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Symbol, idol and mūrti: Hindu god-images and the politics of mediation

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South Asian god-images challenge scriptural understandings of religion. Scripturalism is a pattern of mediation that reifies texts as ahistorical and uses them to legitimise specific regimes of practices and beliefs. In scripturalism, the divine is viewed as super-sensible, non-material, dichotomous and self-creating. While scripturalism may at one time have been solely a 'Western' concern, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries it also has come to be used by Hindu fundamentalist groups. Scripturalism mediates god-images through two interpretive strategies: symbolism and idolatry. Seemingly opposed, both erase the materiality of the god-images by supplementing them to scripture. Drawing on ethnographic accounts of everyday religious practice in Bhaktapur, Nepal, I argue that South Asian god-images should be understood as 'mūrtis', humanly constructed deities dominated by their material element. God-images, furthermore, are brought to life by being enmeshed in a net of social practices.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2003

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