Guest Editor's Introduction: Forests of Belonging: The Contested Meaning of Trees and Forests in Indian Hinduism
religious studies; anthropology; environmental studies
forests; environmental history; india; animism; trees; Hinduism; adivasi
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AbstractThis special issue takes a new approach to the study of religion and nature in Indian Hinduism by drawing on recent ethnography to examine the meanings that priests, pilgrims and ordinary devotees attribute to forests and trees today. Attentive to the rapidly changing social and ecological environment of contemporary India, these studies investigate how people relate to forests and trees that are in various ways set apart, whether as a natural park, a verdant temple, or a deity’s embodied form. In these articles, trees and forests emerge not as peaceful retreats from the hurly-burly profane world, but rather as zones of contestation between competing definitions of ritual authority, progress, and authenticity. Hindus also appear here less as purely religious people, whose cosmologies predispose them to approach trees with reverence and restraint, and more as multi-dimensional people who are as enmeshed as the rest of us in worlds increasingly penetrated by mass media, mass transportation and mass consumption.