This article argues that an Indian, female religious leader (guru) (henceforth, “Guru Ma”) transforms received understandings of dharma, which has often been translated in western scholarly discourse as “religion,” through the everyday, devotional practice of storytelling. Based on fifteen months of ethnographic research conducted with Guru Ma between 2013 and 2015 in the north Indian state of Rajasthan, and through a discourse-centered analysis of her narratives, the article contends that Guru Ma uses storytelling as a modality to construct the idea of the “modern” with respect to a religiously pluralistic “dharmic” sensibility of empathy, flexibility, adaptability, cooperation, and beneficence. By emphasizing that the modern comprises cultivating a dharmic mindset, rather than imitating a westernized lifestyle based on the mindless consumption of goods, Guru Ma’s telling of stories disrupts mainstream cultural perceptions of dharma as opposed and even contradictory to the modern. Her narrative performances foreground what the author terms “the modernity of dharma” for people in whose understandings modern identity associates with westernized consumer capitalist values, and not with the dharmic mindset emphasized in Guru Ma’s stories.
DeNapoli, Antoinette E.
"“Dharma Is Not a Dinosaur!”: Religion and Modern Identity in the Storytelling of an Indian Guru,"
Storytelling, Self, Society: Vol. 15:
2, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/storytelling/vol15/iss2/4