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Sacred Play
Ritual Levity and Humor in South Asian Religions
Sacred Play
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Selva J. Raj - Editor
Corinne G. Dempsey - Editor
Price: $95.00 
Hardcover - 236 pages
Release Date: January 2010
ISBN10: 1-4384-2979-7
ISBN13: 978-1-4384-2979-3

Price: $32.95 
Paperback - 236 pages
Release Date: January 2011
ISBN10: 1-4384-2980-0
ISBN13: 978-1-4384-2980-9

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Summary Read First Chapter image missing

Explores the significance of levity and humor in South Asian religious traditions.

Frivolity isn’t always frivolous—sometimes it can be sacred. Sacred Play uncovers levity and playfulness in a variety of South Asian traditions where one might least expect to find it: in the heart of ritual. While stories recounting the antics of various South Asian deities circulate widely, this enlightening book intentionally departs from divinity-centered humor to focus on the playfulness of humans and their religious practices. This grassroots levity is both serious and lighthearted; it can be highly scripted or spontaneous and cast in shades of light or dark humor. Case studies of Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist rituals examine instances of levity that challenge social or religious norms, in which mischievous deities inspire similar behavior among their devotees, and where playful competition incites serious consequences. Sacred Play explores how piety and levity can complement and complicate one another, enriching our understanding of both.

Sacred Play should … be read by any scholar looking to consider religion and humour as a field of inquiry because it grounds humour in complex webs of social interaction that are both immediate and structurally supported and shows how humour is involved in domination by and resistance to, freedom from and captivity by, the social systems in which religious people and their traditions are embedded.” — Studies in Religion

Selva J. Raj (1952–2008) was Chair and Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College. His books include Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia, also published by SUNY Press, and South Asian Christian Diaspora: Invisible Diaspora in Europe and North America. Corinne G. Dempsey is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. She is author of Kerala Christian Sainthood: Collisions of Culture and Worldview in South India and The Goddess Lives in Upstate New York: Breaking Convention and Making Home at a North American Hindu Temple. Together  Raj and Dempsey coedited Popular Christianity in India: Riting between the Lines and Miracle as Modern Conundrum in South Asian Religious Traditions, both also published by SUNY Press.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures

1. Introduction: Ritual Levity in South Asian Traditions
Selva J. Raj and Corinne Dempsey

PART 1. Laughing Inside Out: Playful Breaks with Convention

2. Serious Levity at the Shrine of St. Anne in South India
Selva J. Raj

3. Don’t Take It Badly, It’s Holi: Ritual Levity, Society, and Agriculture
A. Whitney Sanford

4. Playing the Married Lady: Primary Marriage among the Newars of Nepal
Liz Wilson

PART 2. Gods and Humans at Play: Religious Humor and Divine Intimacy

5. The “Artful Trick”: Challenging Convention through Play in Upstate New York
Corinne Dempsey and Sudharshan Durayappah

6. Friendship, Humor, Levity, and Love in a Hindu Women’s Ritual Tradition
Tracy Pintchman

7. Laughing until It Hurts . . . Somebody Else: The Pain of a Ritual Joke
William P. Harman

8. Gods’ Play and the Buddha’s Way: Varieties of Levity in Contemporary Sinhala Practice
Jonathan Walters

PART 3. Playing to Win: Edging Out the Competition

9. Playing with Durga in Bengal
Rachel Fell McDermott

10. Turning Karbala Inside Out: Humor and Ritual Critique in South Asian Muharram Rites
Amy C. Bard

11. A Catholic Charismatic Healer at Play in North India
Mathew N. Schmalz

12 Response
Jonathan Z. Smith

List of Contributors

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