Hare Krishna Transformed

Hare Krishna Transformed

Hare Krishna Transformed

Hare Krishna Transformed


Most widely known for its adherents chanting "Hare Krishna" and distributing religious literature on the streets of American cities, the Hare Krishna movement was founded in New York City in 1965 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Formally known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON, it is based on the Hindu Vedic scriptures and is a Western outgrowth of a popular yoga tradition which began in the 16th century.

In its first generation ISKCON actively deterred marriage and the nuclear family, denigrated women, and viewed the raising of children as a distraction from devotees' spiritual responsibilities. Yet since the death of its founder in 1977, there has been a growing women's rights movement and also a highly publicized child abuse scandal. Most strikingly, this movement has transformed into one that now embraces the nuclear family and is more accepting of both women and children, steps taken out of necessity to sustain itself as a religious movement into the next generation. At the same time, it is now struggling to contend with the consequences of its recent outreach into the India-born American Hindu community.

Based on three decades of in-depth research and participant observation, Hare Krishna Transformed explores dramatic changes in this new religious movement over the course of two generations from its founding.


It is the end of July 1991 on the Westside of Los Angeles. the park is teeming with visitors. Besides the usual number of families picnicking and kids throwing frisbees and riding bikes, a large gathering of perhaps 150 young men and women are enjoying the summer day as well as one another's company. As a group, they appear very much like other young Californians with their colorful shirts and shorts, long hair, and youthful manner. Many are sitting in groups of five or six socializing while others, mostly the young men, are throwing footballs, shooting baskets on the nearby court, wrestling, and generally having a good time. in the distance I can see several barbecues with smoke billowing from them. One would have to get up close to realize that there are no hamburgers or hot dogs on the grill, only veggie burgers and other vegetarian food. From my perch on the hillside looking down, I am struck by the fact that the reunion festivities before me appear so ordinary. I look hard without success to find any markers that might reveal the collective identity of this group of young people enjoying the summer afternoon.

As I sit observing, two young men from the group walk toward me and sit down. At first I think they might recognize me, but I soon realized that they are merely looking for a safe place to smoke marijuana. One of the young men refers to me as “Jerry” as he sits down a few feet away, presumably because my long hair, bushy gray beard, and large frame remind him of Jerry Garcia. I am surprised by their choice to sit so near, given their intentions, but then I am reminded that this is California after all. At one point the young man who calls me “Jerry” reaches over to offer me a “taste” of his neatly rolled joint. When I decline, he responds, “What's the matter Jerry, too early in the day for you?”

I have returned to Los Angeles after a ten-year absence to research these young people in the park. in the late 1970s, when the majority of their generation were five, six, and seven years old, I was living down . . .

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