Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Jeffrey Samuels (Director), Isabella Mukonyora, Kate Hudephol

Degree Program

Department of Philosophy & Religion

Degree Type

Master of Arts


According to a recent Pew poll approximately 97% of all Hindus live in the countries of India and Nepal. However, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Hindus living in other parts of the world. Across the United States, Hindu temples are joining the religious landscape of the country. They are often greeted as signifiers of a “model minority” by the mainstream because of Asian American economic success. However, as religious and racial minorities, Indian immigrants and Indian Americans just as frequently face ignorance and discrimination. This rejection by mainstream society, combined with a desire to reconnect with the traditions and heritage of their homeland, India, pushes many Hindus in diaspora to explore and embrace a nationalistic interpretation of their religion.

This thesis seeks to understand the trend toward religious nationalism among diaspora Hindus in the United States through an ethnographic examination, using the Sri Ganesha Temple of Nashville, Tennessee as a case study. This community is an ideal case study for two reasons. For one, its internal diversity exemplifies the necessity in diaspora to find commonality in order to build new communities, which creates an opportunity for Hindu nationalism to address pragmatic concerns of the community. Second, the community’s location in the American South, particularly the Bible Belt, places the temple in an environment in which clear, logical and universalist interpretations of Hinduism are needed to deal with real and perceived threats from conversion and discrimination.

Throughout this project, it is argued that the Hindu nationalist discourse is pervasive among the Sri Ganesha Temple community, though few in the community would actually endorse the political positions of Hindu nationalist organizations in India. This contradiction is explained theoretically in the nature of transnationalism and diaspora, which uproots ideas and practices from one context and adapts them to become meaningful in new circumstances. It is also explained ethnographically by acknowledging the particular concerns and issues faced by the diaspora community, especially the perceived need to create a strong community in order to prevent future generations from abandoning the Hindu religion and its distinctly Indian heritage.


Christianity | Other Religion | Philosophy | Religion