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Journal of Contemporary Religion ISSN: 1353-7903 (Print) 1469-9419 (Online) Journal homepage:

Journal of Contemporary Religion

Journal of Contemporary Religion ISSN: 1353-7903 (Print) 1469-9419 (Online) Journal homepage:

ISSN: 1353-7903 (Print) 1469-9419 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjcr20

When the deities are asleep: Processes of change in an American hare Krishna temple

Nurit Zaidman

To cite this article: Nurit Zaidman (1997) When the deities are asleep: Processes of change in an American hare Krishna temple, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 12:3, 335-352, DOI:

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Published online: 25 Jun 2008.

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Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 22, No. 3, 2997


When the Deities are Asleep: Processes of Change in an American Hare Krishna Temple


ABSTRACT The paper provides an analysis of the consequences of the relatively new policy adopted by ISKCON toward active Indian congregations in the United States. Primary data is set within the theoreticalframework of globalisation and the relationship between religious innovation and forms of power is highlighted. The paper provides data regarding the religious and non-religious interests of ISKCON Indian followers and ISKCON temple residents. A description and analysis of the sources of power that are available for the actors and the way they are exploited are discussed in relationship to the process of change. The paper concludes with a discussion of the impact of the interaction between the ISKCON temple and its Indian followers on the movement itself.


Scholars have recently discussed the nature of global society. Robertson's argument that the world is more and more becoming "a single place" (Robert- son, 1985: 43) is often cited. The globalisation thesis assumes that people, cultures, societies, and civilisations previously more or less isolated are now in regular and unavoidable contact (Beyer, 1994). The juxtaposition of several cultures and identities results in: attempts to adapt, change or modify aspects of one's culture; processes of negotiation of new identities and attempts to stabilise or preserve culture. As reflected by its title, this paper will focus on processes of change that take place in a global site. The term 'global site' refers to a unit in which intense interaction occurs between two or more culturally different populations. This paper will present the position that much can be learned about cultural change in a global society through the analysis of processes in a global site. A recent development in ISKCON (acronym for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness)—the attempt to incorporate Indian immigrants as active congregation members—provides a unique opportunity to examine processes of cultural/religious production in a global society and to examine the impact of this process on the movement itself. In some ISKCON centres in North America, there is an intense interaction between first-generation Indian immigrants and ISKCON members who live in the temple, the majority of whom are Americans. In that respect, the Hare Krishna temple is an unusual example of the paradox that characterises a global site: it is a place where American converts to the belief and culture of a Hindu sect interact with recent Hindu immigrants from India who accept 'America' as their new home. The interaction of its members with Indian immigrants who were born to the Hindu religion and culture challenges not only ISKCON's practices, ideology and organisation (as do ISKCON's

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previous interactions with other populations, see Rochford, 1985), but its the- ology as well. Thus, much of the interaction between the Indian immigrants and ISKCON focuses on religious and cultural definitions. In order to understand this process, namely the process of religious and cultural change in a movement such as ISKCON, it is necessary to address issues that are related to power relations. We argue that the process of identity formation, cultural change and religious production occurs in a specific milieu and is brought about by specific actors. The first aim of this paper is to shed light on the process of religious production as it is expressed in a global site. The analysis of religious production will be examined with regard to the religious and non-religious interests of the actors as representatives of two culturally different populations; more specifically, as representatives of ISKCON and the Indian congregation mem- bers. This paper will demonstrate how religious innovations are related to forms and acts of power. Within this framework, the sources of power that are available for the actors and the way they are exploited will be discussed in relationship to the process of change. The process of negotiation and compro- mise that takes place among the actors is also presented and discussed. The second aim of this paper is to discuss the impact of the interaction between the ISKCON temple and its Indian followers on the movement itself. Social and Religious movements often serve as the carriers of cultural change. These movements may introduce new ideologies or new theologies to the local population. At the same time, the influence of specific socio-political, cultural or economic conditions, such as the interaction of ISKCON with its Indian follow- ers, often leads to changes or transformations in the movement itself (Turner & Killian, 1972; Price, 1979; Rochford, 1985). Moore provides a framework for analysing processes of change in a unit, such as the ISKCON temple. The author develops a model of law, process and change in what she calls "a semiautonomous social field" (Moore, 1978). That is, a unit which is part of a larger organisation/society/culture, but is still autonomous. The Philadelphia temple, which is a focal point of interest for this paper, is part of ISKCON in terms of ideology, leadership, daily practices and matters of legal ownership of property, 1 but at the same time, each individual temple is econom- ically independent and has the freedom to change forms of preaching and target audiences. The central bodies of the movement can recommend developing a congregation of Indian immigrants. Since this is perceived by ISKCON as a form of preaching, each temple president has the authority to accept or ignore this recommendation. At the same time, the temple has a variety of connections with different agencies and individuals outside of ISKCON. At present, the most effective connections are with the Indian immigrants who reside in the Philadel- phia area. We accept Moore's assumption that "The underlying quality of social life should be considered to be one of theoretically absolute indeterminacy" (Moore, 1978:39). This assumption, Moore argues, makes it possible to interpret behav- iour in terms of two kinds of processes: the kind in which people try to control their situations by struggling against indeterminacy; and the kind of processes by which people try to exploit the indeterminacy in the situation (Moore, 1978). Our data show that, at present, the temple president, a Caucasian American, exerts pressure toward maintaining order and promoting ISKCON theology and

When the Deities are Asleep


traditions in the temple, while counter-activities are initiated by Board members who are representatives of congregation members, largely of Indian Hindu origin. Economic and symbolic resources are manipulated by the actors to advance their positions and interests in the temple and to initiate changes. The materials for the analysis presented in this paper were gathered during the first 3 years following the implementation of ISKCON's new policy regard- ing the Indian immigrants who have been associated with the movement's temples in North America. 2 During these years, Boards of Trustees which represent the interests of the Indian immigrants were established in many ISKCON temples in North America. It was approximately at this time that the author began her fieldwork at the Philadelphia ISKCON temple. During the years 1990 and 1994, the author was a participant observer of the activities that are associated with the Philadelphia ISKCON temple. These activities included daily, weekly and yearly temple activities, temple Board meetings, as well as a variety of additional temple preaching activities, such as programs in the homes of Indian congregation members. Fifty-nine formal interviews as well as hun- dreds of informal interviews were conducted with temple residents, former temple residents, Indian congregation members and ISKCON leaders. The results of a questionnaire that was sent randomly to Indian congregation members and temple visitors were analysed. Altogether there were 30 responses to the questionnaire.


The Philadelphia ISKCON temple was founded at the end of the 1960s. It was one temple in a chain founded as a result of the efforts of Prabhupada, ISKCON's founder, to establish an international movement. ISKCON temples and centres are established for deity worship 3 and for an elaborate system of education. The goals of ISKCON are to worship Krishna and to preach Krishna consciousness to the world. 4 Although ISKCON's principles of devotion to Krishna were not foreign to Indians in India and abroad, it was mainly non-Indian devotees who joined the movement as full-time members to spread the message of the movement and explain its mission. Indians who immigrated to the US in the mid-1960s visited the ISKCON temples. However, they did not participate in the preaching activities of the movement, nor did the American temple residents preach to them. They were mainly considered as Sunday visitors. A small number of Indian congregation members have been initiated by ISKCON gurus and have become more dedicated to the movement's goals. (There are no official figures regarding ISKCON Indian initiates. The secretary of ISKCON Foundation estimated that there are 500 ISKCON North American initiates of Indian origin in North America.) 5 A major catalyst in ISKCON's initiation of a new policy regarding Indian Sunday visitors was the deteriorating financial situation of KKCON temples in North America in the late 1980s. The Indians were recognised as a financial resource. At this time, many ISKCON temples, especially in North America, were sparsely populated and devoid of funds. Devotees of American origin had left the temples to live and work outside, and the new American recruits did not sell paraphernalia effectively on the streets. In addition, ISKCON leadership had

338 N. Zaidman

to pay legal fees for a number of court cases, such as the suit by Robin George in 1987. In view of these factors, ISKCON leaders decided to approach the Indians to gain their assistance. In 1987, the North American representatives of ISKCON's central governing body, the GBC (Governing Body Commission), formed a new body, the ISKCON Foundation which focuses on developing congregations. The ISKCON Foundation recommended instituting Boards of Trustees on the local level. Thus, in December 1991, in response to recommendations by the ISKCON Foundation, the Philadelphia temple president announced the names of 11 congregation members who lived and worked outside the temple who had agreed to volunteer their time as members of the Temple Advisory Board for the year 1992. However, in 1991, the Philadelphia temple president was a member of ISKCON Foundation Board of Directors. The functions of the Board, as defined by the Philadelphia temple, included the provision of advice to the temple administration and to raise funds for temple expansion.


Two Different World Views Regarding the Ideal ISKCON Temple

In general, the tradition which ISKCON follows emphasises proselytisation.

lead a devotional movement 500 years ago in Bengal and made it

possible for the outcast to join his movement. Similarly, 25 years ago, Prabhu- pada, ISKCON's founder, accepted college dropouts, as well as other young people from the streets into his movement Gudah, 1974). As a result of the principles of proselytisation and of keeping the movement boundaries open, ISKCON temples have often become multi-national centres. An example is the ISKCON temple in Tel-Aviv, in which three languages were spoken simul- taneously at one of the movement festivals: Hebrew (for the Israelis), English (for the guests from India) and Russian (for the new immigrants from the former USSR). However, unlike the centre in Tel-Aviv where several cultures come into contact, but do not interact, the Philadelphia centre is a global site. That is, it is a place of intense interaction between two culturally different populations.



The ISKCON Temple from the Point of View of its Residents

Approximately 25 devotees live in the Philadelphia temple. Most of them are in their mid-twenties. Temple residents come from different countries, the majority are Americans. The long-term residents, those who have lived in the temple for at least 6 months, perceive the temple as the abode of Krishna (God) and as a shelter from the material world. From their point of view, ISKCON temples should provide an opportunity for Krishna devotees to develop love of God. This is accomplished by following the daily schedule in the temple, which is centered around the temple deities. They believe that by concentrating the senses on Krishna, that is, by seeing the deities in the morning, worshipping them, preparing food and flowers for them, eating the food that was offered to them (prasad),chanting their names, etc., one can develop love of God and advance spiritually. For that reason the temple is perceived as a spiritual home. The central role which the temple deities play in ISKCON Philadelphia is expressed by the amount of money that the temple spends for the needs of the deities, e.g. clothing, flowers, food. The accounts for the temple for the years

When the Deities are Asleep


1988-1992 show that a large portion of the temple income (mainly donations) and expenses were dedicated to the deities. During these years, contributions for the deities were 13-19% of the temple's total income. The expenses for the deities are the largest of the temple expenses. Likewise, at the time of my fieldwork, five priests served the deities in the temple, each priest devoting 4-5 hours a day for deity worship, which is approximately 45% of temple residents' working hours (which include cooking, cleaning, selling books, selling flowers, etc.) Besides the focus on deity worship and the spiritual advancement of temple devotees, the temple is perceived by its residents as an educational center and

as a preaching centre of Krishna consciousness. Cultivating relationship with the

Indian followers is a way of combining preaching with financial income. However, other forms of preaching (e.g. lectures in colleges; weekly programs outside the temple and the activities of a 'Rock and Roll' band which resides in the temple) take place in the Philadelphia temple. In other words, relationships with Indian congregation members is only one form of preaching among many.

The ISKCON Temple from the Point of View of the Indian Followers

A few hundred people visit the Philadelphia temple on festivals. About 100

people visit the temple every Sunday. The majority of temple visitors on Sundays and festivals are Indian immigrants. Of these immigrants there are about 25 families and individuals who tend to visit the temple on a weekly basis. 8 Unlike ISKCON members, most of ISKCON's Indian followers perceive the ISKCON temple as an ethnic center for the Hindu-Indian community. They do not perceive Krishna as the supreme God and they do not consider preaching Krishna consciousness as a main function of the temple. Like other Hindu immigrants, ISKCON Philadelphia congregation members and temple visitors are interested in shaping the temple as a centre for their community and as a place in which different Gods reside. Studies about the changing forms of Hinduism in the diaspora show that similar processes take place in different locations. In many places Hinduism is practised as an ethnic religion and it becomes general, as opposed to local (Jayawardena, 1968; Vertovec, 1992). The. dominant form of Hinduism in the UK and in the US is a form of ethnic Hinduism (Burghart, 1987; Williams. 1988). 9 Like other Hindu immigrants in America, the majority of ISKCON Philadel- phia congregation members and temple visitors appreciate the service offered to the deities, but see the Philadelphia temple as an ethnic centre for the com- munity. When Indian ISKCON congregation members and temple visitors were asked: "What do you think the top three functions of an ISKCON temple should

be?", half of the respondents defined the functions of the temple in terms of religious and socio-culhiral practices. One person said that the temple should be "propagating the cultural and religious aspect of Hindu and Indian culture"; another person said that the "temple should keep Hindus in touch with spirituality" and "help Hindus come together and socialize". The other half of the respondents defined the functions of the temple in religious terms. These findings show that a significant portion of the respondents view the temple as

an arena in which cultural activity for the purpose of strengthening the Hindu

340 N. Zaidman

tradition should take place. From this point of view, the temple should provide services not only for God, but also for worshippers of God. The other form of Hinduism in the American diaspora which has an impact on the ISKCON temple is what has been defined as "neo-Hinduism" (Williams, 1988). Neo-Hinduism is practised, according to Williams, in most Hindu temples in the USA. In these temples, images of several deities are worshipped, the participants are from many different regions, language groups and sects, and the rituals of many sects are practised. This is different from temples in India which can be identified as either Vaishnava or Shaiva, according to the resident deity (Williams, 1988; Fuller 1992). As opposed to the new type of 'general' temples in the US, ISKCON temples, like some of the temples in India, are dedicated only to Krishna and his incarnations (e.g. the deities of Krishna, Radha, Ram, Sita). The Indian immigrants who are involved with the ISKCON temple, like other Hindus in India and abroad, are familiar with the worship, teaching and practices related to Krishna (see Fuller, 1992; Singer, 1966: xiv; Jayawardena, 1968; Knott, 1987). However, as opposed to ISKCON members, most of them do not consider Krishna to be the supreme God. They believe that the worship of different Hindu gods should be performed and that different Hindu traditions are equally elevated. When asked, "Do you believe that Saivtes, Vaishnavism, and Advaita Vedanta are all equally elevated Hindu traditions", 76% of the respondents answered, "yes". Observations and discussions with Indian congregation members support this finding. Several Indian followers maintain small altars dedicated to Gods which are not worshipped by ISKCON members in their homes. It is common that different family members worship different gods. It is also evident that in addition to participation in the worship of Krishna in the ISKCON temple, most congregation members participate in the worship of other gods which take place in non-ISKCON temples and in home programmes. When asked, "How often do you visit non-ISKCON temples in the US?", 70% of respondents answered that they visit non-ISKCON temples a few times a year.

Power, Strategies to Gain Control and the Rhetoric of Deviation '

Like temples in India, the Philadelphia ISKCON temple is dedicated to one God. This kind of temple does not serve the needs of Hindu immigrants who now perceive themselves as permanent residents in the US. Immigration from India and the gradual acceptance of America as the immigrants' new home (see Fisher, 1978, 1980) brought change to the traditional form of the Hindu temple. The Hindu temple in the North American diaspora has become an ethnic centre, as well as a residence of different gods. The original form of the ISKCON temple, which is rooted in a Bengali tradition, did not satisfy the needs of ISKCON's Indian followers. Changes were made regarding the position of women in the North American temple, e.g. women are allowed to go to the altar and serve the temple deities; however, they were accepted with mixed feelings by the Indian followers. The activities of the ISKCON Philadelphia Board members are aimed at shaping the temple according to the interests of the Indian congregation mem- bers whom they represent. For that purpose, they employ two different strate-

When the Deities are Asleep


gies: they work to strengthen their position in the temple by investing time, work, and money, while at the same time, they tend to manipulate power and appear to violate temple rules. Secondly, they develop a rhetoric to justify deviation from ISKCON theology or philosophy which, at the same time, supports another fundamental principle of ISKCON: proselytisation. Board members come from an affluent part of the community and they make significant contributions to the temple. The percentage of total temple income contributed by congregation members and temple visitors has increased significantly as the result of Board members activities. In 1988, congregation members and temple visitors contributed 48% of the total temple income. In 1989 and in 1990, they contributed 53%; in 1991, 62%, and in 1992, 67%. The growth of the contributions of congregants and temple visitors is as follows:

from US$54,000 in 1988 to US$111,000 in 1992. Board members are aware of the financial potential of the Indian followers, and, with the support of the temple president, they initiate new programmes, such as special dinner programmes, to raise more money for the temple. It is not surprising that the Board members, who raise the money for the temple, also want to control it. The following example demonstrates this: about 4 months before a major festival, Board members raised funds for the temple with a dinner party. They decided to use some of the money to renovate the temple before the holiday. The decision was made, but nobody took any steps to execute it. At the last minute, in a decision taken by only three Board members (among them the temple president), about half of the money that was collected was spent on the temple renovation. The job was done by an American Board member. In the meeting that followed the festival, Board members complained that the money was used in an inappropriate way and mechanisms to control money were the main focus of discussion. In that meeting, the general agreement was that for any sum of money above US$500, Board members should approve an estimate of the anticipated expenditure, but since there are three men on the Board who are Americans and thus could not represent the interest of the Indians, the Indian members of the Board were not totally comfortable with this situation. One person suggested that two people of Indian origin should have to sign these checks. Another person disagreed, claiming that this is not respectful. He said: "These people devoted their life to the temple" and "all that we want is to serve the temple". Board members finally agreed that three people will sign, two Board members of "Indian origin" and one temple devotee. Board members felt, however, that the phrase "two people of Indian origin" should be changed and eventually they agreed that it should read "Two Board members who are not associated with the temple on a daily basis". This modification in effect excluded the American Board members. The data presented above shows that Board members distinguish between two categories of people in the temple: temple residents and Indian followers. This dichotomy exists in the mind of most of the Indian donors whom Board members represent. Indian followers and Board members are interested in advancing their interests in the temple, and these are different from those of the temple residents. Indeed, most of the Indian Board members think that temple residents should be able to take care of the daily expenses of the temple, while congregation member contributions should be directed toward specific projects. However, temple residents think that they should be fully engaged in deity

342 N. Zaidman

worship and preaching, while congregation members support them. As long as the Indians control the money from funds, they can invest it in any project which serve their interests. Until now, all investments were aimed at renovating the public areas of the temple. Money was invested in painting, fixing the temple roof, coating part of the parking lot with pitch and building rest rooms for guests. There were no major investments in any projects related to either ISKCON preaching activities or to the residential area of the temple. Similarly, plans for the future have a focus on improving the public areas of the temple, such as fixing the kitchen, enlarging the temple room and building a cultural hall. The power of the Board members is also derived from the fact that they are connected to networks of potential supporters in the Indian community. The ability of ISKCON Philadelphia to recruit residents or supporters depends mainly upon the activities of the 'rock and roll' band members, the Board members, and active congregation members. Most Philadelphia temple residents who live in the temple for more than one year have weak and limited networks on the outside. It is clear that the ability of active Indian congregation members to recruit supporters to ISKCON Philadelphia is important. Even more so in view of the potential networks that Indian congregation members and temple visitors have, being successfully incorporated in the American job market and society (Helweg & Helweg, 1990). Indian supporters can help in advancing the interests of ISKCON in general and the Philadelphia temple in particular. In addition to economic power and rhetorical strategies, a third source of power for Board members is symbolic. This is in relationship with the most powerful element in the temple: the temple deities. Studies about the symbolic power of leaders in African societies have shown that African tribal kings and chiefs demonstrate and build their power in the community by violating the laws of other humans who should be subordinate to the Gods. By doing so they reinforce their position (Balandier, 1972; Arens & Karp, 1989). Contrary to that, symbolic power in Hindu temples is built by showing proximity and service to the temple deities. On Janmastami in August 1992, Krishna's birthday and a major holiday at the temple, presents were offered to the deities. On that evening Krishna received two irons, towels, jewelry, money (individual gifts ranged from US$30-501), dried fruits, laundry detergent, a silver spoon and more. The most important present, at least from the point of view of the audience, was a donation that was given to buy new clothing for the deities. The donation was given by the Chairperson of the Board and the temple president's wife announced it in public. With this and other donations, the temple pur- chased the new clothing which was made in India. Appadurai rightly places the temple deity at the centre of social relationships (Appadurai, 1981). Appadurai argues that in the temple, "goods and services are gifted to the deity, transformed in the process of worship, and reallocated to the worshippers in the form of shares, which are culturally demarcated by publicly received honours" (Appadurai, 1981: 212). Honours are the redistributed leav- ings of the deity. "The order in which they are distributed among a set of individuals is often as important as their content" (ibid: 36). The honours not only denote rank or status, but they are also seen to be the constitutive features of roles in relationship to the deity. In ISKCON, honours are mainly the right to serve the deities or to perform a ritual. Thus, in addition to buying the deities

When the Deities are Asleep


new clothing, a Board member took an active part, along with the temple president, and other initiated Board members, in bathing the deities, the main ceremony on that evening. He (and other initiated Board members) also per- formed the arti 10 at midnight for the most important deities of the temple. The honours, bathing the deities and performing arti for them, were granted to initiated Board members by the temple authorities. However, at the same festival, a Board member not only accepted the honours of serving the deities, but actually denied the right of a non-Indian temple priest to assist in perform- ing the individual offering (archana) on the altar. He climbed on the altar and gave instructions to the experienced temple priest on how to break the coconuts. After a short time, the temple priest left the altar with bitter feelings. This act is an example of the growing involvement of Board members in the temple's inner hierarchy. This involvement exceeds the power that was originally given to them and has created more tension than their involvement in other areas. An example of this type of involvement is the Board members' criticism of different temple vice presidents to the point that one of them resigned from his position. This kind of involvement is a source of potential crisis in the relationship between Board members and the temple president, since traditionally, the process of allocating positions within an ISKCON temple has been determined by ISKCON leaders. Board members, even if initiated, are considered to be outside of the system and should not have a voice. In addition to strengthening their position in the temple, Board members have developed a rhetoric which is aimed at supporting their activities in the temple and at legitimising deviation from ISKCON philosophy. In most of their encoun- ters in the temple, Board members legitimise their involvement in the temple affairs by arguing that "we are only serving the temple". To serve a person or a purpose is an important concept in Hindu tradition in general and in ISKCON tradition in particular. ISKCON members are educated to perceive themselves as

the servants of the servant of the servant

see their work as a simple service for the community, however, others find this concept useful to get support from both the temple president and the Indian congregation members. The word 'temple' in the phrase 'we are only serving the temple' does not reveal whom exactly the Board members are serving, but only that they are serving something above them. Board members also develop a rhetoric which legitimises deviation from ISKCON philosophy and at the same time fits another principle of ISKCON ideology: proselytisation. They justify those enterprises which do not completely 'fit' ISKCON practices by arguing that they engage in them "in order to bring new friends to the temple". This is a strong argument, since the temple authorities are interested in exposing more people to Krishna consciousness and, as already mentioned, they are interested in the financial contributions of the Indian followers. •

The temple president is the main figure with whom Board members negotiate. Although the wife of the temple president (who is the head of the deity department) is an important figure in the temple, she chose not to take part in the Board meetings. The temple vice president, the temple commander, as well as the director of membership programmes assist in this task. These functions are performed by various ISKCON devotees who often spend only short periods of time in the temple. For that reason they have limited impact on the process

of God. A few Board members do

344 N. Zaidman

of negotiation and religious production. In addition, according to ISKCON rules, only temple presidents (and to some degree temple vice presidents), should be involved in the process of policy making. Other temple devotees are expected to

focus on their sadhana. 11

Data show that some temple residents are affected by

and are critical of different aspects of the relationships with Indian congregation members (see Zaidman-Dvir, 1994). However, they have no impact on the formal process of developing relationships with Indian congregation members.

The temple president is interested in keeping the temple order as it is and above all in maintaining the temple as the abode of God and as a preaching centre. Cultivating relationships with the Indian immigrants is one form of preaching among others. A temple president who decides to cultivate relation- ships with Indian congregation members does not get instructions regarding this from the ISKCON central leadership. ISKCON temple presidents receive only the guidelines of the ISKCON Foundation which focus on public relations. Thus, the Philadelphia temple president, like other temple presidents in the US, is to some extent free to make decisions about (or to struggle with) the additional services that he is asked to perform for Indian congregation members. He might consult with other leaders in the movement to get general guidance, yet he ultimately directs the daily routine within his sphere of influence. Within this context, the personality and the position of the temple president are important factors in the process of negotiation. The Philadelphia temple president, a Caucasian in his late 40s, is highly knowledgeable in ISKCON philosophy and a central leader within the ISKCON framework. The status of the temple president (as well as the status of his wife) is well established both inside and outside the temple. They were initiated by Prabhupada himself and have been members of ISKCON and of the Philadelphia temple for approxi- mately 20 years. The temple president is an ISKCON guru and a GBC represen- tative. He has a PhD, which makes a special impression on Board members and congregation members. All of the above contributes to the fact that Board members fully accept his position in the temple and that he has veto power in the interpretation of religious matters. The temple president did not reject any of the initiatives of the Board during the time of my fieldwork. This has to do with the power of the Board as well as with the president's belief that eventually congregation members will accept ISKCON's philosophy and with the hope that their future investments will be directed to the traditional goals that Prabhupada had initiated. Also, he did not reject any of the initiatives of the Board, because he is a prominent figure in ISKCON and actually takes an important role in the new policy regarding Indian congregation members.

The Process of Religious Production '

Naturally, changes that are initiated by Board members do not focus on those practices which are accepted by both temple residents and congregation mem- bers, such as devotion to Krishna. The changes that Board members initiate focus on shaping the temple as a centre for the community and accommodating the needs of npn-ISKCON members to worship Gods other than Krishna and his incarnations.

When the Deities are Asleep


One example of Board members activities is the special celebration that they organised in the temple for the new year (1st January). The rationale in celebrating the event, as presented to me by Board members, was to provide an appropriate forum for congregation members to celebrate this event together with other Americans. In other words, the Board members' concern was to provide a way for the Indian immigrants to participate, along with other Americans, in an American holiday. The temple, as the place of worshippers of God, seemed to be an appropriate place to strengthen the Hindu-Indian identity. Temple authorities agreed to sponsor the event, but both sides had to negotiate the details. A few Board members thought that the best way would be to conduct a programme (which included devotional songs and a children's performance) until midnight, and then to open the doors of the deities so that everybody could see them and be blessed. This idea was not fully accepted by the temple president who did not want to wake the deities at midnight. However, the temple president was interested upbringing more people to the temple. The celebration was a success. Many people came, sang devotional songs arid enjoyed the cultural programme and the offered food (prasad). The doors of the deities were closed at 8 p.m., like any other day. Congregation members brought small deities from their homes which were placed on a decorated table in front of the closed doors of the temple deities. Puja was conducted for the deities at midnight. The festival for the New Year had not been celebrated in the ISKCON temple before and it is not part of the ISKCON tradition. Adopting a new tradition and allowing the Indian followers to use the temple for their own needs strength- ened the connection between the temple and its Indian members. However, from ISKCON's point of view, the temple should serve God. Subordination of the temple Deity to the needs of the worshippers is not accepted in ISKCON philosophy in which devotion and service to God is a main principle. The temple president suggested the placement of uninstalled deities in front of the closed doors of the altar. Uninstalled deities are a form of God which one may carry and to whom the standard of worship is less rigid. This compromise had no impact on the position of the temple Deity as the king of the temple and its most important resident.

Oh a smaller scale, Board members initiated another programme which reflected their efforts to unite, under a religious umbrella, Indians in America as an ethnic group operating within the American cultural context. On the day that Mother's Day was celebrated in the USA, Board members brought a present to Radha (the deity); to the wife of the temple president who serves as the head

pw/ari; 12 and to the women who were initiated on that day.

given during the Sunday'programme, when a large Indian audience was present. Board members' activities not only reflect their concern regarding strengthen- ing America as a centre in the life of the immigrants, they also reflect their concern about strengthening national feelings towards India. In December 1992, on a Sunday afternoon, India became a concrete political entity, when an initiated Board member gave a lecture. The Philadelphia temple president was not present. The lecturer spoke about the events in Ayodhya (where Hindus and Muslims fought over a sacred place) in a highly political manner. He concluded with the following words: "Our request from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is to

The presents were

346 N. Zaidman

express objection on the national level and not to think that the temple is a place of Pagans. It is the actual place where God dwells. This is the reason that you

We must fight." Speaking about politics in a militant manner

is against ISKCON's norms. The events in Ayodhya, however, were the concern of congregation members and temple visitors. Knowing this, the lecturer de- cided to use the temple floor, in the absence of the temple president, to address the needs of the Indian audience while violating ISKCON's rules. This lecture about Hindu Nationalism was the only incident during the time of my fieldwork. Another way in which change is initiated by Board members is through religious enterprises. These enterprises are aimed at introducing neo-Hinduism to the ISKCON temple. One of the first religious enterprises was the organisation of an evening for Durga, a Hindu Goddess. Board members, led by a member from Gujarat, asked the temple president to conduct a puja for Durga and a Garba dance 13 in the temple room. Their argument was that this programme could attract many Indians from Gujarat and from other places in India who are used to worshipping Durga at home. Board members told me that the goal of the event was "to make more friends". A Gujarati Board member explained that, at the same time, programmes like this took place among members of the Gujarati community and he thought that this programme would attract them. As previ- ously indicated, the only deities that are worshipped in ISKCON temples are those of Krishna and his incarnations. Durga, like any other demi-god, is merely empowered by Krishna and therefore should not be worshipped in the temple room. The temple president consulted with his godbrothers (other ISKCON leaders in a similar position) and it was finally agreed that the program would not take place in the temple room, but in a rented hall. The main activity that evening was the Garba dance. A group of singers were invited to the hall. They sang songs for Durga, while the audience (including a few temple residents) danced the Garba dance around the Goddess. However, Durga was not the only one who was to be the centre of the evening; Krishna was the centre of the dancers as well, even above Durga. In order to avoid any offence, the temple president sponsored the event under the condition that it would take place outside the temple, and he also made sure that the position of Krishna as the supreme God was symbolically represented. A table was set in the centre of the hall. At the top of the table, a picture of Krishna was placed, at the bottom, a picture of Durga. Yet, not all the details of that event could be controlled to conform to ISKCON practices. For example, the type oiarti ritual performed was not in accordance with ISKCON protocol. As one initiated Board member explains:

In the arti that they performed one is saying to Krishna: "I am donating so much money to you and in return you will give me that and that." We don't worship God to get something in return. That's business, that is not devotion! We did that arti just to please the audience, because everybody knows it, but that is not our philosophy.

Unlike the celebration of the New Year, the programme for Durga was not organised again by Board members during my fieldwork. Another example of a religious enterprise initiated by a Board member is the organisation of Lord Ramachandra Appearance Day (Sri Ram Navami). The first

must defend it

When the Deities are Asleep


celebration was organised in April 1992 and was a success. The idea of Board members was to bring those Indians who celebrate the event at home to the temple. The festival was celebrated in the temple room since Ram is considered to be an incarnation of Krishna. The programme started at midday. It included readings from the Ramayan, 14 archana to Sita Ram, arti and feast. Board members asked congregation members to prepare and bring food. Large quantities of food were prepared by the wives of Board members. The majority of the audience at the event were Indians. Westerners were barely visible; they started to come only for the evening arti for the temple deities. An incident in which the temple president employed 'pragmatic philosophy' to solve problems involved the reading of a sixteenth-century book that was written in Hindi by Tulsidas. This text includes philosophical tendencies which contradict ISKCON philosophy. The text that is accepted in ISKCON is written in Sanskrit by Valmiki. The temple president explained that the Indians who read the Ramayanin Medieval Hindi actually do not understand it. Thus, they

in the text. This was one of the

reasons why the temple president allowed the reading from the Hindi text. Nonetheless, the programme was conducted while the doors of the deities were closed. In general, the process of negotiation between Board members and the temple president has been successful according to the criteria of both sides. As a result of Board members' enterprises, the temple now offers more activities for its Indian followers; it gets more contributions, it has a network of potential supporters and it can function as a preaching centre for a larger amount of people. A few factors contribute to the success: first, Board members initiate projects which are seen as additions to temple activities and not as alternatives to them. At the same time, they contribute time and money to various temple projects. From that position (i.e. the position of active members), they have initiated changes. Second, in the process of negotiating changes, Board members use a convincing rhetoric. They argue that they represent the larger community and that they try to bring more people to the temple. This rhetoric, often used when there is a contradiction between ISKCON's tradition and Board members' suggestions, help each side to reach agreement. Finally, in addition to the formal process of negotiation with the temple president, Board members manipulate situations in order to gain more power, which in turn supports their position in the process of negotiation. The Philadelphia temple president is a skilled politician and a 'pragmatic philosopher'. He does not turn down Board members' enterprises. In doing so, he demonstrates his appreciation to them and to the people whom they rep- resent. The temple president finds pragmatic solutions which do not contradict ISKCON's tradition. He agrees to almost any activity as long as the position of Krishna as a supreme God is not changed. For that reason, new festivals are conducted in the temple room, when the doors of the altar are closed and the deities are asleep, or in a rented hall, outside Krishna's residence. Any other solution which places Krishna as a supreme Lord and as a centre (or as one centre) of the event can be used, even if the general framework is foreign to ISKCON's tradition. The temple president ignores some practices (e.g. the reading of a text and the performance of a ritual not common in ISKCON) which

are not aware of the mayavadi'stendencies


348 N. Zaidman

contradict ISKCON's tradition; by doing this he allows the Indian followers to use the temple facilities on their own terms. The temple president's pragmatism was once again expressed a short time before I completed my fieldwork in Philadelphia. A plan to build a new temple room and a cultural hall in the temple yard was proposed by a Board member. The project would entail working with four other Indian groups in the Philadel- phia area and possibly entering into a legal partnership with them. Such a plan could have major ramifications for the temple, because it entails the possibility that representatives of non-ISKCON organisations would dictate policies accord- ing to their views. This plan involved having the upper floor of the building as a temple room. The basement would be a cultural hall which could be rented by individuals for any purpose, including worship of Gods that ISKCON considers subordinate to Krishna. When I asked about the religious implications of this project (e.g. worshipping Durga in Krishna's abode), the temple president answered that the building would have a separate entrance and that meat and alcoholic beverages would not be served. He also told me the following story about Prabhupada:

In our Bombay temple there is a big auditorium which we rent out to other groups. Once there was a conversation with Prabhupad about who can we rent it out to. One man said: "We should not rent it out to mayavadis." And Prabhupad said: "No, no Mayavadis." And then someone said: "And what if they pay, Srila Prabhupad?" and Prabhu- "

pad said: "Well, if they pay


This paper proposed that the examination of a global site, that is, a unit in which intense interaction occurs between two or more culturally different populations, can contribute to our understanding of processes of cultural change in a global society. Moore's model of a semi-autonomous social field provides the frame- work for the analysis of processes of religious production and cultural change in such a site. Moore's model considers the influence of external structures and conditions as well as the influence of general trends on a specific field. The model suggests that a unit is connected to larger systems in different ways. Although Moore does not address the recent nature of global society, her model, which is orientated towards the analysis of social fields in a complex society, provides a useful framework for examining general global trends on the one hand and local interpretation/practice on the other hand. Within this framework the actors are perceived as representatives of populations and as the carriers of the interests of such populations. The philosophies, ideologies, economies and other aspects of the interacting groups (or populations) are used as a basis to understand the subjects and the nature of the interaction. The case presented in this paper demonstrates the relationship between the Philadelphia ISKCON temple to ISKCON and its influence on the interaction. The Philadelphia temple has limited connections to other agencies and individ- uals. At the same time, representatives of the Indian followers are connected, although more loosely, to the larger population of Indian immigrants in the

When the Deities are Asleep


Philadelphia area. Central to the negotiation which takes place in the temple are different religious perspectives regarding the essence and function of the temple. Attempts are being made by the representatives of the Indian immigrants to shift the primary focus of the temple from the deities to increased accommo- dation of Indian worshippers. In opposition to this, the ISKCON leadership is interested in maintaining control of temple affairs and especially in preserving the position of the temple deities. Our data show that there is a strong positive connection between form of power (the institution of the Board) and religious production. Thus, a change in temple tradition (such as the celebration of the New Year) appeared along with the institution of the Board of trustees and not before. The Indian immi- grants have been involved with the ISKCON temple since arriving in America. However, their initial involvement did not exceed that of visitors. Once they were granted the power to be involved in the temple affairs, the process of cultural interaction and religious production began. This dearly supports our argument that cultural change should be analysed in relation to issues of power. Two major factors explain the success in bringing change to the Philadelphia temple: first, Board members established a strong position in the temple by, on the one hand, performing acts which conformed to temple norms and, on the other hand, exploiting the indeterminacies of the situation. More specifically, Board members used temple resources as well as their own resources to support the temple and reinforce their position within it. This was accomplished in a way which was accepted by both temple residents and congregation members, but Board members also exploited indeterminacies in temple politics and daily life. An example of this was the establishment of a mechanism of economic control. Secondly, the temple president exerted pressure toward maintaining order and promoting ISKCON theology and traditions in the temple. When faced with projects which contradicted ISKCON philosophy or theology, he proposed solutions which maintained the position of Krishna as a supreme God. For this reason new festivals are conducted in the temple room, while the doors of the altar are closed and the deities are asleep, or in a rented hall outside Krishna's residence. In addition, the temple president ignores some practices which contradict ISKCON's philosophy, and thus, he allows the Indian followers to use the temple facilities on their own terms. The temple president's position is well established both within and outside the temple. The interaction between representatives of Indian congregation members and of ISKCON has resulted in a change in temple practices. It has also had an impact on the process of decision-making in the temple—both aspects of temple life are highly connected to movement ideology. Nonetheless, up to this point, the interaction between representatives of ISKCON and of Indian congregation members has not entailed a change in the movement's philosophical or theolog- ical positions. The data show that the precedence of deity worship in the Philadelphia temple has not changed as the result of the growing interaction with the Indian followers. Similarly, neither have the daily schedule or the activities of the temple residents in relationship to the deities changed. At the same time, the movement's preaching mission, which is as important as deity

350 N. Zaidman

worship, has been further developed and expanded as the result of the interac- tion between the Indian followers and ISKCON representatives. This case study leads to the conclusion that no significant changes have taken place in ISKCON with regard to their two main goals. There is an on-going process of negotiation relative to religious observance and ceremony; however, at least from ISKCON's point of view, no significant changes have resulted from the interaction with the Indian immigrants. Similarly, the data show that in spite of the exposure of hundreds of Indian immigrants to ISKCON practices, only very few individuals accept the sect's view, while the majority use the temple on their own terms. One can use the metaphor of concentric circles to illustrate present conditions in the ISKCON temple. The inner circle consists of the traditional ISKCON practices which have not been changed (i.e. worshipping Krishna, following temple residents sadhana and preaching). The second circle consists of the practices which have been introduced by the Indian community. When consider- ing the long-term consequences of ISKCON's interaction with the Indian immigrants, the following questions present themselves: Can one expect the gradual growth of Indian influence and control in the ISKCON temple? Can one expect further changes in ISKCON practices to the extent that Indian immigrants will be able to introduce significant changes in the temple inner circle? Or, can one expect that long-term interaction with Indian immigrants in ISKCON temples will enlarge the second circle to the extent that the two circles will be equal? The conclusions of this study are that changes in the temple tradition were introduced by a strong Board of Trustees and a temple president who is much in favour of this reform. Yet, the Board was not successful in bringing change to the inner circle of ISKCON practices. One can speculate that less dominant Board of Trustees and a temple president who is not in favour of that reform might have very little impact, if any at all on ISKCON's temple tradition. One should also consider the impact of other factors on the temple tradition, including the position of ISKCON leaders regarding the relationship with Indian immigrants. Conservative ISKCON leaders as well as frustrated local residents might prefer other forms of preaching. They might exert pressure to block further developments with Indian followers. Furthermore, changes in local conditions, e.g. the formation of a new Hindu temple in the area which can attract the majority of ISKCON visitors or the emergence of a new form of preaching for ISKCON temple residents), might have an impact on the intensity of relationships with the Indian immigrants. Finally, in some cases, long-term relationships with local Indian leaders can result in more involvement (or control) of Indian immigrants in the ISKCON temple compared to the involvement of the Indian followers in the ISKCON Philadelphia temple. This involvement in the temple can be expressed in the enlargement of the second circle of temple practices, which is the introduction of practices related to the religion of the Indian immigrants, to such an extent that the second circle of temple practices would be as important (in terms of allocation of resources, such as time, money, space, manpower) as the first circle. However, one should not expect that a meaningful change would take place in the ISKCON temple core practices, even when the control of the immigrants in temple life is very well observed.

When the Deities are Asleep


Nurit Zaidman is a lecturer in the School of Management at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Her area of research includes new religious movements and


business anthropology. Correspondence: School of Management Ben-Gurion sity of the Negev, P.O.B. 653, Beer-Sheva 84105, Israel.


1. Legally, the Philadelphia temple is a corporation. In order to sell the property, three signatures of GBC members who are signed on the property are required. In addition, since the BBT, ISKCON publishing house, loaned the money with which the Philadelphia temple was bought, the ISKCON Philadelphia temple is obliged to pay this money back. Thus, although the Philadelphia temple is financially independent on a day-to-day level, it is connected by legal and financial ties to ISKCON's central bodies.

2. See Carey (1987) about the emergence and development of the relationship between ISKCON and its Indian followers in Britain.

3. In the Philadelphia temple, there are four sets of deities which are the focal point of daily and yearly activities. Deity worship starts at 3.30 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m. every day. Temple residents cook special food for the deities, change the deities dress twice a day, decorate them with flowers and perform daily seven rituals of offering for the deities. The main deities in the temple are Radha and Krishna. Krishna is one of the most popular Gods in Hinduism and is considered to be the supreme God by ISKCON followers. Radha is his consort.

4. Krishna Consciousness is a state of consciousness that is purely centered on Krishna by one who has surrendered to Him completely.

5. Personal letter dated May 22, 1993.

6. In this case, the California Appeals Court ruled against the ISKCON leadership and set their liability at 5.5 million dollars. In addition, six temples were placed in receivership.

7. Chaitanya is a sixteenth-century saint, the founder of the school of bhakti-yoga, the path of devotional service and love of God.

8. The profile of temple visitors and congregation members in terms of their place of origin is in accord with data about the Indian immigrant in general (see Zaidman-Dvir, 1994, and compare with Helweg & Helweg, 1990: 4; Fenton, 1988: 11; and Saran, 1985). From the socio-economic point of view, temple visitors do not differ from other Indian immigrants who have come to the US since 1965. The results of a sample conducted with 30 households of temple visitors show that most of the husbands (and sometimes husbands and wives) are professionals, e.g. engi- neers, laboratory workers, university professors, accountants, etc.

9. The other two forms of Hinduism are regional and sectarian Hinduism.

10. This is one ritual section of puja, i.e. worship or service for the deities or a guru.

11. These are practices that lead to mastery of one of the yogic traditions.

12. A pujari is one who performs puja. The priest who serves the deities.

13. This is a folk dance common in Gujarat and other parts of Western India.

14. The Ramayan is an epic poem in which Rama is a hero.

15. In ISKCON, this is the doctrine affirming impersonalism.


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