Nick's Reviews > Religion Against the Self: An Ethnography of Tamil Rituals

Religion Against the Self by Isabelle Nabokov
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Jun 18, 11

Read in June, 2011

Isabelle Nabokov's book is about religion in Tamil Nadu in southeast India, a proudly Hindu area with a history of seafaring. Yet the rituals she documents are most like exorcisms, practiced by what seem very much like shamans, although some are musicians. Chillingly, the earliest examples she cites, without belaboring the point, are aimed at relieving young women of the spirit that causes them to oppose their family's choice of a husband or lifestyle. Others are to reconcile families with the ancestors. Nabokov is clearly sympathetic to the families, although not necessarily the religious specialists -- one comes across very much like a Western medium in a nightclub act, posing questions that would elicit a reaction from any family (who does not have a dead relative who might come for a visit if one believed in such things). Nabokov does not belabor the point, but her examples very clearly demonstrate a pattern of the use of ritual as a means of social control, of re-asserting a family's will over a member who would not be seen as a problem in Western society. There is at least one case of clear resistance during the rite; Nabokov admits not knowing whether the woman in question was ultimately successful in taking control of her future.
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