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Ethnographic research of religious experience in the Hare Krishna movement

Čargonja, Hrvoje
Ethnographic research of religious experience in the Hare Krishna movement 2012., doktorska disertacija, Filozofski fakultet, Zagreb

Ethnographic research of religious experience in the Hare Krishna movement

Čargonja, Hrvoje

Vrsta, podvrsta i kategorija rada
Ocjenski radovi, doktorska disertacija

Filozofski fakultet





Flood, Gavin

Ključne riječi
Hare Krishna; ISKCON; Croatia; Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism; anthropology of experience; ambiguity experience; religious experience; embodied alterity; phenomenological aesthetics; resonance; aesthetic value; senses; emplacement; emplaced sensory aesthetics

The aim of this ethnographic research is to present emplaced sensory aesthetics of religious experience in the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness (ISKCON) in the context of primarily one, local religious community in Zagreb, Croatia. Also known as the the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement, ISKCON is a global religious organisation that can be seen as Western missionizing offshoot of Gauḍīya or Bengal Vaiṣṇavism. Drawing from Vedantic, tantric and aesthetic Indian traditions, particularly the Indian rasa theory, this monotheistic religious tradition understands religious experience as the highest form of emotional-aesthetic experience. In such deification of aesthetic emotions, what transpires as an emic understanding of religious experience among the Hare Kṛṣṇas is the actualisation of personal relationship with the polymorphic divinity in its original form known as Kṛṣṇa. In order to explore both phenomenological and discursive aspects of religious experience, I have deployed an existential-phenomenological paradigm and have used principles of ethnographic, exclusively qualitative methods. In search for a hermeneutical interface between the complex Gauḍīya theology of religious experience, fieldwork observation and Western academic language, the findings of this thesis revolve around four major concepts: the experience, the sense, the place and the aesthetics. The results show that there are two distinct types of narratives of religious experience which reflect the much discussed ambiguity of preobjective immediacy and objectified mediacy deeply ingrained in the concept of experience, and which can be interpreted by adopting the reversibility thesis of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In order to approaching the spectrum of sensations and feelings which comprise the most of the bodiliness involved in religious experience the thesis argues for the notion of sense as active and passive and as internal and external. Such contention is supported by Indian Sāṃkhya philosophy, Western cultural history and anthropology of the senses. Yet, as the findings forcefully demonstrate, religious experiences are not just had or felt, they are primarily done, which means that there are particular sets of contexts and practices involved in religious experience. These were found with a theological explanation of the five especially important avatāras, or descents, of God that are seen as the immanent presence of God in this impermanent world (Holdrege 2013). They are: Kṛṣṇa as the sound of his names (nāma avatāra), as his image (mūrti avatāra), as authorized scripture (śastra avatāra), as holy places (dhām avatāra) and as other devotees especially spiritual masters (guru avatāra). Building on the notion of emplacement as gathering together, or entanglement (Casey 1996 ; Ingold 2000, 2008 ; Massey 2005 ; Pink 2009) of locality, materiality, discourse and embodiment, the thesis proposes the understanding of these five avatāras as categories of emplacements of religious experience. To understand the emotional aesthetics involved in the Gauḍīya theology of religious experience, a phenomenological understanding of aesthetics as emplaced resonance is proposed. It is argued that resonance is an expansive coherence in the flux of embodied attentional field, where coherence represents a congruity of content in such intentional flux with the affordances of particular emplacement. This, in turn, provides valued perceptions, which is how some authors (Coote 1994 ; Mandoki 2007 ; Morphy 1992 ; Saito 2008) understand the meaning of the term aesthetics. Building on Csordas’ (2004) existential (not ontological) grounding of religion in the embodied alterity, it is argued that the place of religion offers a possibility for an expansion of coherence between the never quite graspable sense of unity of an infinite number of possibilities of difference lurking as a background to every perceptual act of foregrounding (i.e. embodied alterity), with cultural, reified, ontologised conceptions of the “wholly other” (Otto 2004). Except for phenomenological, aesthetics possesses its discoursive aspect evident in aesthetic values has its own discursive aspect, understood as aesthetic values that pattern the flux of embodied attentional field and objectification of experience (Desjarlais 1994 ; Geurts 2002 ; Throop 2008, 2009, 2010). Similar to Csordas (1997), three aesthetic values operating in the domain of the Hare Kṛṣṇa religious experience are established. They are values of control, intimacy and play and they are represented by three discursively ubiquitous somatic tropes of feet, taste and tears as in common expressions such as: “lotus feet”, “higher taste” and “tears of ecstasy.”

Izvorni jezik

Znanstvena područja
Etnologija i antropologija


Projekt / tema
196-1962766-2751 - Populacijska struktura Hrvatske - antropogenetički pristup (Pavao Rudan, )

Institut za antropologiju

Autor s matičnim brojem:
Hrvoje Čargonja, (279875)