ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

43 – Trans/Third Gender Communities and Religion in South Asia

From its beginning in the 1990s, the field of Transgender Studies has been reluctant to engage with the field of Religious Studies. In 2018, a first encouraging step was made by the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion which proposed a volume titled Transing and Queering Feminist Studies and Practices of Religion, shedding light on the usefulness of the collaboration between these two research fields.

Convenors

Daniela Bevilacqua - SOAS, South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics, London, United Kingdom
Vinita Chandra - Banaras Hindu University, Department of Humanistic Studies IIT, Varanasi, India

Long Abstract

From its beginning in the 1990s, the field of Transgender Studies has been reluctant to engage with the field of Religious Studies. In 2018, a first encouraging step was made by the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion which proposed a volume titled Transing and Queering Feminist Studies and Practices of Religion, shedding light on the usefulness of the collaboration between these two research fields. In 2019, Strassfeld and Henderson-Espinoza edited a special issue of the Transgender Studies Quarterly, titled Trans*/Religion. The field of Transgender Studies in Religion is, therefore, quite new. Siobhan Kelly (2018) has highlighted five main areas of investigation in this field: biographical study, auto-theoretical analysis, critiques of cultural imperialism’s impact on gender, work on intersex, and gender theory and its applications.

Using the term “transgender” as a convenient umbrella term, in this panel we are interested in expanding this field and related areas of investigation in South Asia, particularly India. India is home to several historically and culturally rooted trans-communities –Hijrā, Arāvani, Jogappā, Shiva-Shakti, Kinnar, Sakhi-Bekhi, Kothi, among others. These include transgenders, transsexuals, transvestites, and also those who have been referred to as the ‘third gender’- neither man nor woman (Nanda, 1999). Classical Indian texts present myriad sex/ gender categories including tṛtīya prakṛti, klība, svairiṇī, napuṃsaka, Ṣaṇḍa/ Ṣaṇḍi etc. Classical Indian mythology also carries numerous narratives referring to varying sexual/ gender identities and orientations including androgynous deities, gender fluid demi-gods, and gender variant human characters. Most of the trans identities in India are rooted in religion/ religious narratives and hence, the organisation of most of the trans-communities is intertwined with religion. In the present panel, we invite papers which try to look deeper into the relationship between the trans-identities/ trans communities and religion in South Asia/ India across time and space. More specifically, we shall welcome articles which focus on contemporary changes and recent advances –how the legislation hinges argument on the base of religion and tradition, how the hijrās now wish to be identified as kinnars, what has been the reception of the Kinnar Akhādā among the broader trans communities and if religion may provide a site for upward social mobility of the trans communities. How far are the claims of a religious syncretic culture among the hijrās hold good? How does the hijrā community deal with issues of conversion? Does religion provide a point of connection or disjuncture for the traditional trans communities with the international LGBTQ+ communities? We look at contributions that can help us reconstruct historically the image/representation of transgender individuals in different religious traditions of South Asia (even Buddhism or Jainism), and to disentangle how South Asian religions and LGBT+ communities/individuals interact today, therefore looking at the issue from a diachronic and synchronic perspective.