Ritual Innovation

Strategic Interventions in South Asian Religion

Edited by Brian K. Pennington & Amy L. Allocco

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies, Religion, Hindu Studies
Hardcover : 9781438469034, 308 pages, February 2018
Paperback : 9781438469027, 308 pages, January 2019

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Table of contents

List of Figures and Tables

Brian K. Pennington and Amy L. Allocco
Part I. Ritual Innovation and Political Power

1. Coronation of the Hindu King: Tradition and Innovation in Nepalese History
Nawaraj Chaulagain

2. Ritual Replacement and the Unmaking of Monarchy: Notes on Nepal’s Bhot.o Jātrā, 2006–2008
Anne T. Mocko

3. Innovating the Ancient, Instantiating the Urban: The South Asian Indra Festival
Michael C. Baltutis

4. Changes in Ritual Practice at the Himalayan Hindu Shrine of Kedarnath
Luke Whitmore

5. Ritual Renunciation and/or Ritual Innovation? Redescribing Advaita Tradition
Reid B. Locklin
Part II. Ritual and the Economies of Caste and Class

6. Ancestral Rites Reworked: The Transition from Solemn to Domestic Modes of Feeding the Dead
Matthew R. Sayers

7. Flower Showers for the Goddess: Borrowing, Modification, and Ritual Innovation in Tamil Nadu
Amy L. Allocco

8. Consuming Krishna: Women, Class, and Ritual Economies in Pushtimarg Vaishnavism
Shital Sharma
Part III. Ritual and the Negotiation of Gender

9. Village Widow/Town Priestess: Innovating Ritual Power in a Pilgrimage Economy
Brian K. Pennington

10. Leveraging Agency: Young Jain Women’s Ritual Innovations through the Updhān Fast
M. Whitney Kelting

11. Ritual Innovation and Masculine Identity Formation in the Contemporary Cult of Lord Ayyappan
Liz Wilson
Part IV. Ritual Innovation in Contemporary Transnational Contexts

12. Dancing the Vedas, Deritualizing Theory: A Study of “The Universal Truth”
Charles S. Preston

13. Ganesha and the Chocolate Almonds: Ritual Innovation and Efficacy in Diaspora
Janet Gunn

14. Recasting Sexuality, Gender, and Family through Contemporary Canadian Ritual Innovation
Sudharshan Durayappah and Corinne G. Dempsey


Challenges prevailing conceptions of what religious ritual does and how it achieves its ends.


Religious rituals are often seen as unchanging and ahistorical bearers of long-standing traditions. But as this book demonstrates, ritual is a lively platform for social change and innovation in the religions of South Asia. Drawing from Hindu and Jain examples in India, Nepal, and North America, the essays in this volume, written by renowned scholars of religion, explore how the intentional, conscious, and public invention or alteration of ritual can effect dramatic social transformation, whether in dethroning a Nepali king or sanctioning same-sex marriage. Ritual Innovation shows how the very idea of ritual as a conservative force misreads the history of religion by overlooking ritual's inherent creative potential and its adaptability to new contexts and circumstances.

Brian K. Pennington is Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University and the author of Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion. Amy L. Allocco is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University.


"The volume is a very important contribution to the ongoing discussion on South Asian ritual, ancient and contemporary. Many case studies in this volume show that even strategic change is often not presented as innovation, but rather as the return to an original tradition, as the restitution of an older and better state before time corrupted the ritual system. It shows clearly that looking closely at ritual practices within their specific historical and local contexts helps understand how religious traditions maintain a 'timeless' aura while constantly adapting to a rapidly changing world." — Reading Religion

"The breadth of coverage in Ritual Innovation is extraordinary and refreshing in terms of the types of contemporary ritual practices and practitioners receiving attention, not to mention the geographic spread across South Asia. This book makes a significant contribution to the scholarly literature on South Asian religions and contemporary Hinduism." — Karline McLain, author of The Afterlife of Sai Baba: Competing Visions of a Global Saint