The Renewal of the Priesthood: Modernity and Traditionalism in a South Indian Temple

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Princeton University Press, 2003 - Social Science - 207 pages

Much has changed for the priests at the Minakshi Temple, one of the most famous Hindu temples in India. In The Renewal of the Priesthood, C. J. Fuller traces their improving fortunes over the past 25 years. This fluidly written book is unique in showing that traditionalism and modernity are actually reinforcing each other among these priests, a process in which the state has played a crucial role.

Since the mid-1980s, growing urban affluence has seen more people spend more money on rituals in the Minakshi Temple, which is in the southern city of Madurai. The priests have thus become better-off, and some have also found new earnings opportunities in temples as far away as America. During the same period, due partly to growing Hindu nationalism in India, the Tamilnadu state government's religious policies have become more favorable toward Hinduism and Brahman temple priests. More priests' sons now study in religious schools where they learn authoritative Sanskrit ritual texts by heart, and overall educational standards have markedly improved.

Fuller shows that the priests have become more "professional" and modern-minded while also insisting on the legitimacy of tradition. He concludes by critiquing the analysis of modernity and tradition in social science. In showing how the priests are authentic representatives of modern India, this book tells a story whose significance extends far beyond the confines of the Minakshi Temple itself.


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Chapter One The Priests and the Minakshi
Chapter Two Rights Duties and Work
Chapter Three Family and Domestic Life
Chapter Four The Agamas and Priestly Education
Chapter Five Religious Politics and the Priests
Chapter Six Modernity Traditionalism and the State

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About the author (2003)

C. J. Fuller is Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His books include The Camphor Flame (Princeton) and Servants of the Goddess.

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