On Tuesday evening, the Department of Religious Studies hosted virtually Tracy Pintchmanprofessor at Loyola University Chicago, to deliver an Anjali lecture on Hindu studies, titled “The Goddess Beyond Boundaries: Worshiping the Eternal Mother in a North American Hindu Temple”.
The event was co-sponsored by the departments of the Interdisciplinary Programs in Asian Studies, Global Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality.
Christine Shepardson, head of the Department of Religious Studies, and Rachelle Scott, associate professor of religious studies, began the Zoom event by introducing Pintchman and explaining his research journey.
“There is in fact no doubt that Dr Pintchman has been and continues to be one of the leading scholars on Hindu goddesses and gender and power related topics in Hindu traditions, both in India and beyond. “Scott said.
Since 2008, Pinchman has been involved in researching the Parashakthi Temple in Pontiac, Michigan, because of a unique blend of American and Hindu traditions that she sees embedded in the community.
She received a contract with Oxford University Press for a book sharing the conference name several years ago. But in 2018 the temple burned down and had to be rebuilt. She felt that this part of the temple’s history needed to be incorporated into her writing, so she continued to work, not expecting to be further delayed by a pandemic.
“We know what happened in 2020, so the good news and the bad news is that the book isn’t finished yet, but there’s been a lot more material that I’ve been able to gather over the four or five years,” Pitchman said.
Pintchman gave context for the town of Pontiac – featuring a temple located just down the road from a strip mall, but framed his search for a new religious community for more than a decade.
“Before a major automobile production center, it hardly seems like the kind of place a goddess might choose for her home,” Pintchman said.
Still, Pinchman described how Pontiac ended up being where the Hindu goddess called Karumariamman wished she was. The head of the temple who is also a gastroenterologist, Dr. G. Krishna Kumar, began the temple with little connection to Hindu tradition. He had a divine experience with the goddess where she demanded to be installed in a temple which led to her establishment of the community.
Dr. Kumar reported that he spoke directly with the goddess, but did not necessarily consider himself a guru, which Pintchman says is another factor that sets the temple apart from other Hindu temples in India and America. . Rather than the temple being the result of a diasporic Hindu movement, Pintchman has a different theory for this unique temple.
“I would say the temple community sees the religious base there as a new religious movement, so it ties into larger trends in the United States,” Pintchman said. “A new religious movement in particular that creates an innovative image of the goddess that devotees consider particularly appropriate for the time and place in which we and she live.”
Due to her direct revelation with Karumariamman, Dr. Kumar believes the Goddess to be an important part of the creation of the universe. Pintchman described the complex process of how members of the Parashakthi temple believe this to be true.
She finally revealed the ways the Goddess allegedly transforms her divine energy into material energy. In this thought process, she is the divine mother. Kumar and others liken the vibrations of this transformation from immaterial to material to human childbirth.
“The material world emerges or is, in this case, born from the transcendent dimensions of the Goddess because her embodied energy, therefore matter, is simply manifest matter and that means divine power pervades the material realm,” Pintchman said.
Besides believing in the goddess as a divine mother, temple believers also see her as a necessary protector for them and for the earth.
Pintchman explained that Kumar repeatedly noted that they believed the Goddess wanted the temple built before the turn of the 21st century because she expected a major disaster in the early decades of the 2000s.
The survival of earth and humans through events like 9/11, natural disasters, the 2008 financial crisis, and now, the COVID-19 pandemic, have further reinforced temple beliefs that the Goddess serves the goal of protection she offered.
“Anyone who has lived and read a newspaper for the past 20 years can see in retrospect that this prediction, whether or not it came from the divine mother herself, certainly seems to have come true,” Pintchman said.
This theory is further bolstered by the fact that many devotees believe the 2018 fire at the temple was likely necessary in the eyes of the goddess, as their original building may not have been prepared to withstand the pandemic. .
The American context and location, aided by the congregation’s use of Native American languages and the borrowing of biblical imagery, suggest Pintchman’s general idea that it is not just a traditional Hindu temple. established in North America.
“What I see happening here at Parashakthi Temple is something different,” Pintchman said. “In my opinion, it is more useful to think of the motherhood of the goddess in this temple not as something that those most involved in the temple wish to return to, but as something that they innovate in conversation with the American landscape, American history, southern India, the traditions of the goddess and the place that the divine mother, the goddess, has chosen for her western manifestation.
Pintchman added that researchers have come to define new “landscapes” outside of the standard “landscape.” She gave examples of ethnoscapes and sacroscapes, but proposes to add another landscape, specifically for the Parashakthi temple.
A Shakti, defined simply as divine feminine energy, scape, she says, would be used to describe the different spaces that people “see as particularly charged with goddess energy.” In the case of the Parashakthi temple, the term is particularly useful as devotees regard it as the intersection of the divine energy of the Goddess. For them, Karumariamman goes beyond borders, takes root in the Pontiac and infiltrates all areas of life.
“The Goddess Shakti Landscape includes not only natural and man-made sites, but also mental and emotional places that permeate people’s dreams, visions and feelings,” Pintchman said. “For devotees, what distinguishes the Parashakthi Temple more than anything else is its vital role in anchoring this shakti landscape, the goddess energy, on the gross and subtle planes.”
The conference was followed by a short Q&A. Pintchman is also director of the global studies program at Loyola University Chicago. She has taught at Northwestern and Harvard universities. Readers can listen to his recent WUOT interview here.