Material Acts in Everyday Hindu Worlds

By Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger

Subjects: Hindu Studies, India And South Asian Studies, Comparative Religion, Religion, Anthropology
Series: SUNY Press Open Access, SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9781438480121, 206 pages, July 2021
Hardcover : 9781438480114, 206 pages, October 2020

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Transliteration


1. Agency of Ornaments: Identity, Protection, and Auspiciousness

2. Saris and Turmeric: Performativity of the Material Guise

3. Material Abundance and Material Excess: Creating and Serving Two Goddesses

4. Expanding Shrines, Changing Architecture: From Protector to Protected Goddesses

5. Standing in Cement: Ravana on the Chhattisgarhi Plains

Afterword: Returning to Material Acts

Glossary of Key Terms

Broadens the parameters of religious studies by accounting for material acts that help shape religious worlds.


In Material Acts in Everyday Hindu Worlds, Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger analyzes the agency of materiality—the ability of materials to have an effect on both humans and deities—beyond human intentions. Using materials from three regions where Flueckiger conducted extensive fieldwork, she begins with Indian understandings of the agency of ornaments that have the desired effects of protecting women and making them more auspicious. Subsequent chapters bring in examples of materiality that are agentive beyond human intentions, from a south Indian goddess tradition where female guising transforms the aggressive masculinity of men who wear saris, braids, and breasts to the presence of cement images of Ravana in Chhattisgarh, which perform alternative theologies and ideologies to those of dominant textual traditions of the Ramayana epic. Deeply ethnographic and accessibly written, Material Acts in Everyday Hindu Worlds expands our understanding of material agency as well as the parameters of religion more broadly.

This book is freely available in an open access edition thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships Open Book Program—a limited competition designed to make outstanding humanities books available to a wide audience. Learn more at the Fellowships Open Book Program at, and access the book online at the SUNY Open Access Repository at

Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger is Professor of Religion at Emory University. She is the author of several books, including Everyday Hinduism; When the World Becomes Female: Guises of a South Indian Goddess; and In Amma's Healing Room: Gender and Vernacular Islam in South India.


"…this book is rewarding not only for anthropologists and scholars of religion working on India. All with an interest in theoretical discussions about materiality in human culture will find inspiration here for further thinking." — Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"The book opens up the possibilities of incorporating materiality into the study of religion and highlights how religion shapes the meaning of the world. Ornaments that change people and their status and follow one into the afterworld are considered part of the Hindu religion by Flueckiger. It changes the way we look at the world around us. The scholarly gift of this book is looking at the material objects that lie in the background of several scholarships. The book will interest students, readers, and scholars of religious studies, Hinduism, South Asia religions, Indology, and material culture." — Religion

"In this well-crafted book, Material Acts in Everyday Hindu Worlds, Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger brings much-needed attention to the materiality of Hinduism as a lived religion … By focusing on the materiality of lesser-known, localized, and often non-orthodox practices in conjunction with well-known festivals, it provides useful, focused examples of the incredible diversity of Hindu traditions that would be useful in a variety of contexts." — Material Religion

"Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger's Material Acts in Everyday Hindu Worlds is an exemplary text refocusing on Material Agencies maneuvering ethnographic and performative methodologies in the discipline of religious studies … Flueckiger gave us a new approach to looking at the world with unarticulated material possibilities, material uncertainties, the agency of presence and absence, the possibility of material questioning and conflicting subcultural narratives. Above all, Flueckiger's work shows how indigenous cultures can show us an alternative possibility of being; thus, the text is a potential source for those fascinated by religious and performance studies." — Liminalities

"The book makes several important contributions to our understanding of Hindu religiosity … [it] is filled with theoretical insights about materiality and makes a substantial contribution to the sociology and anthropology of religion in India." — Reading Religion

"…Material Acts in Everyday Hindu Worlds is an immense contribution to the fields of Hinduism, South Asian religions, material culture, and ritual studies, and will shape how these fields are approached for years to come. Besides convincingly demonstrating that materials can act, this book's greatest strength is Flueckiger's scholarly gift of noticing and interrogating objects that others ordinarily overlook. In so doing, she encourages us as readers and scholars to do the same, expanding not only what we see as religious, but also simply what we see." — Nova Religio

"…[a] fascinating book … [that] not only delivers deep insight into the Hindu world, but broadens our understanding of the role of material agency within the study of religion." — New Books Network

"This would be a great book to use in an introductory course for the ways it illustrates many elements of religious practices through a judicious mix of human voices and vivid descriptions. In weaving together the diverse potencies of jewelry, clothes, images, and other materialities, Flueckiger creates a unique 'assemblage.'" — Ann Grodzins Gold, author of Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India