Theologising with the sacred 'prostitutes' of South India : towards an indecent Dalit theology
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This thesis theologises with the contemporary devadāsīs of South India, focusing in particular on the Dalit girls who from childhood have been dedicated to the goddess Mathamma and used as village sex workers. Firstly, chapters one and two situate the context for theologising by outlining the discriminatory practice of caste and the place of the Dalits, noting in particular the plight of Dalit women. From here it explores the socioreligious identities of the contemporary devadāsīs that have been transformed and degraded as a result of a multitude of hegemonies, to the extent that the existential narratives of the contemporary devadāsīs are shaped by sexual violence, caste and gender discrimination, local village religiosity and sex work. And it is based upon such narratives that this research contemplates God. Chapter three suggests that there exists a lacuna in Indian Christian Theology and Dalit Liberation Theology for the voices and experiences of the most marginalised of Dalit women, in particular those whose narratives would be deemed “indecent”. In response, inspired by the Indecent Theology of Marcella Althaus-Reid, it suggests that in order to be truly identity-specific and liberating to the most marginalised of Dalit women, Dalit Liberation Theology must be born out of the sexual narratives of the oppressed. Chapter four therefore uses an Indecent Dalit feminist hermeneutic to re-read the narratives of the “harlots,” “concubines,” and “whores” of Scripture alongside the lived experiences of the Dalit sacred “prostitutes.” It does so in the hope of challenging patriarchal hegemonic Dalit Christian theologising that portrays the ‘decent’ woman as godly, to the detriment of those who transgress heteronormative sexual moral orders. The final chapter goes on to further challenge Dalit Theology to discover the Dalit Christ in the context of the dedicated women – where we encounter a lived religiosity, that is shaped by religious hybridity, goddess worship and the Christ who has become a Dalit devi.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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