Vividly showcasing new ethnographic research on extraordinary South Asian women who have
abandoned worldly life for spiritual pursuits, the contributors to this collection offer
feminist insights into Jain, Buddhist, Hindu, Baul, and Bon ascetic traditions. With
intimate narratives documenting contemporary women's experiences, contributors explore the
lives of women who have renounced involvements such as sex, financial security, kin, and the
pursuit of beauty, in favour of higher religious and spiritual ideals. The authors consider
the hardships endured by women committed to religious paths more commonly taken by men and
warn against any easy romanticization of these women's lives. At the same time, the book
offers a refreshing antidote to the relentless image of South Asian women as dependent on
male kin and defined by their sexual and procreative roles.
About the Author
Meena Khandelwal is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women's Studies at the
University of Iowa. She is the author of Women in Ochre Robes: Gendering Hindu
Sondra L. Hausner is a Lecturer in Anthropology at Oxford. Her book Wandering in
Place: The Social World of Hindu Renunciation won the 2004 Joseph W. Elder Prize in the
Indian Social Sciences from the American Institute of Indian Studies.
Ann Grodzins Gold is Professor of Religion and Anthropology and Director of
the South Asian Centre at Syracuse University. Her publications include four books, most
recently In the Time of Trees and Sorrows: Nature, Power and Memory in Rajasthan
(co-authored with Bhoju Ram Gujar) which was awarded the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Prize
from the Association of Asian Studies.
Back of the Book
"This book provides a series of fascinating, lively ethnographic studies of South Asian
women who reject the normative roles of wife and mother and then sometimes conform to them
after all. Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Muslim, living in north India, Nepal, and Bangladesh,
these women attempt to transcend their roles, their sexuality, or even their bodily
existence. Their very different, very individual lives represent a much more varied array of
possibilities for South Asian women than almost anyone has been aware of. The book will be a
wonderful source for courses on South Asian culture, gender studies, and religious studies,
as well as for anyone who simply wants to think about the many different ways in which human
beings can live."
"What is wonderful about this book is the vividness and intimacy of the ethnographic
portraits of female renouncers-strikingly diverse Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jain, Baul and
Bon women who have crafted their lives outside of conventional realms, thwarting the
overwhelming expectation that South Asian women will marry and procreate. Nuns, Yoginis,
Saints and Singers is an important book that will change the ways both gender and
renunciation are understood in the region."
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