ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Transgender Kali – A Sri Lankan transreligious goddess


Albrecht Jessica - University of Heidelberg, Religious Studies, Heidelberg, Germany


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


The goddess Kali has become the centre of worship for transgender communities in India. Interestingly, this is also the case in Sri Lanka. In this instance, Kali became the goddess of not only Hindus, but also Christians and Buddhists. In most cases, Kali is a goddess for trans sex workers in Sri Lanka who pray to her for empowerment, safety, and revenge. In a multi-religious country like Sri Lanka, this strikes as something quite unusual. This paper will look at the representation and use of Kali in transgender communities in Sri Lanka to examine the power of Kali as a “transreligious” figure. Further, I will use the figure of Kali to explore the theoretical implications, possibilities and limits of queer and trans studies in religion. How does this influence the way we conceptualize religion? How can queer and trans theories enhance our understanding of religious identities? Lastly, this paper maintains that the practice of Kali worship by transgender Sri Lankans needs to be viewed in the wider context of South Asia as well as global LGBTQIA* discourses. How can one goddess be seen as an empowering figure by so many different people in South Asia as well as globally? Does that interfere with specific, in this case transgender, religious identities and practices? In this paper, Kali serves as a place to look at the glocal from a queer feminist perspective.