Diaspora, Identity, and Religion: New Directions in Theory and Research

By Waltraud Kokot; Khachig Tölölyan et al. | Go to book overview

10

A diachronic view of diaspora, the significance of religion and Hindu Trinidadians

Martin Baumann

During the 1950s, on the Caribbean island of Trinidad a proliferation of Hindu temples took place. Researcher Carolyn Prorok even spoke of an atmosphere of 'frenetic temple building' (Prorok 1995:10). The construction of new temples went back to a renewed interest in 'India' and in Hindu bhakti devotion among the descendants of the indentured workers who had been shipped from India to the Caribbean during the nineteenth century. The temples were styled in a new architectural form, mirroring Christian churches, relying in fact, however, on a combination of known Hindu temple and assembly forms. This - in Hindu terms, innovative - temple architecture thus brought forth the 'Trinidadian temple' (Prorok 1991:83), characterized by a long hall, filled with numerous rows of benches, and a raised area at the hall's end, topped with a dome to indicate that this is where the deities reside. Of equal interest is that not only did the temples provide new homes for the transplanted gods, but they also served as places for political agitation of the Indian-based political party, the People's Democratic Party. During the 1950s, political aims and religious concerns appeared indistinguishable, the 'Hindu community' being both a religious and a political body.

This description relates to the third, and in our view, critical phase of the developmental scheme of five phases, which will be outlined in this chapter. It is characteristic that new architectural construction, being only one of many religious innovations during this time, coincided with a process of emancipation from the established Indian patterns. It also expressed the firm desire to both adapt to the dominant society and to acquire a respected place there. The developments also point to the fact that in specific social situations, an ethnic group's religious belonging can become very prominent and serve as a vital marker of the group's identity. This also implies that the importance of religion might change over time, given both national and the transnational contexts. Thus religious belonging might not be of prime importance to a migrant group all the time, but there are times in which it is quite significant and must be taken into consideration.

This chapter is divided into two parts: the first points to the importance of religion in situations of migration and settlement. It argues that, although many studies of migration neglect it, religion retains or acquires considerable significance within processes of settlement, and does so despite the power of modern trends of secularization, social differentiation and individualization. Based on these

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