Religious and Gender Negotiations on Facebook: Female Hindu Practitioners Claiming New Roles in La Réunion

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Natalie LANG, University of Goettingen, Germany
La Réunion, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean, is characterised by its religious and ethnic diversity resulting from multiple waves of migrations, including Indian indentured labourers. After a long phase of sparse contact with India, a recent reorientation towards India and Hinduism by Reunionese of Indian descent leads to a renegotiation of Hinduism as diasporic religion. More recently, Hindus have established facebook as important site of religious negotiations, where Hindus in La Réunion establish contacts with Hindus in India and numerous places in the diaspora. By taking the examples of two major Reunionese facebook pages consecrated to Hindu religion and selected facebook chronologies of individuals, this paper examines the negotiation of gender roles in Reunionese Hindu religious practice. The paper argues that women's claims in the offline environment to participate in certain rituals are reinforced and supported by pictures posted and discussions led on facebook. For example, the increasing demand of women walking on fire, a devotional practice which had not been performed by Reunionese women for a long time, manifests itself in photographs of fire walking women posted on facebook and the accompanying comments, which often include felicitations to the female practitioners. Moreover, the possibility of virtual interactions serves as an access to religious knowledge which can be used to justify certain claims, such as information on women walking on fire in India. The paper concludes that in contrast to negotiations about gender-specific tasks in offline temple ceremonies, virtual negotiations on facebook start from a different basis, as both women and men can post and have access to knowledge about religious practices in India and worldwide. The paper is based on participant observation conducted during 12 months’ anthropological field work in La Réunion (2014-2015) in the context of a PhD research project.