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UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser

Mythopolitics in South Asia: The Lifetimes of Powerful Stories

Alternative title: Mytopolitikk i Sør Asia: "Lifetimes" - mektige historier

Awarded: NOK 11.5 mill.

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2020 - 2024


The project members are working on how myths?from scriptures to popular contemporary ones?influence how people think of politics in South Asia and beyond. The project team has found that mythic and religious narratives can influence the behaviour of voters based on the case study of India. The team has also found that the powerful people in a society get to define what is ?good culture? and what is ?bad culture? for everybody even though everybody may not share the same values. The team also finds that sometimes underdog or subaltern groups can successfully attack popular mythic and religious stories, often the basis of this ?good culture?, by digging out scandalous omitted bits from its many versions. The team has published and presented these results in many important academic publications and international conferences. Since the start of the project, project members have organized a panel debate with Norwegian politicians and scholars of India to address the crucial nation-wide farmers protest in India under a series of similar events: Indian Winters of Discontent. All the project members presented their research to the Norwegian embassy in New Delhi and counselled the embassy members as South Asia experts on different areas of religion and politics in India. In addition, postdoc Dr. Samuelsen has regularly contributed with interviews in Norwegian print and electronic media. She has also contributed with original research-based dissemination articles internationally with other project collaborators based at the University of Oslo. Postdoc Silje L. Einarsen contributed with a popular lecture on goddess traditions for the continuing education department at Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She has also delivered a lecture at the Norwegian Institute of Philology in the interest of public dissemination. All the project members have delivered popular lunch-time lectures at MF Centre for the Advanced Study of Religion. In addition, the project manager Dr. Sen and project collaborator from University of Oslo and project LIFETIMES Chattopadhyay co-founded an online platform for the popular dissemination of critical theory called ?Theory from the Margins? (followed by 11,000 people on Facebook) in June 2020 which has hosted very popular events across social media platforms, some of which have been viewed over 20,000 times.

Struggles around identity form the major challenge in global politics today. To understand the formation of ethnic and religious identity, we must pay closer attention to narratives of belonging or mythological stories: stories one grows up listening to, stories that buttress one’s communal identity as an insider vis-à-vis an outsider, stories that teach one what it means to be human, and stories that teach us how to do the right thing. As we witness the rise of ethno-nationalisms, and the fear of the outsider—the common public enemy—in parts of Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia, these narratives of belonging become particularly crucial. In India, the current ruling Hindu nationalist party has been using Hindu mythologies- particularly the ancient Indian epic Ramayana- to reinforce its moral authority in the democratic politics for decades. But since 2011, social movements led by so-called lower castes have used traditional propaganda and social media campaigns to deconstruct this Hindu mythos- baring its hierarchies and misogyny in the public sphere—to delegitimise the moral authority of the Hindu nationalists. Project MYTHOPOL will analyse this mythopolitics, as produced in contemporary political moment, in the context of the existing mythological narratives, by the Hindu nationalism and its resistance as the primary tool of creating narratives of identity and belonging. To understand the shifting terrains of authoritarianism in global politics, we need to understand the storyworlds, aspects of which have been referred to as the meta-narrative for groups of people, as ‘mythscapes’, and as the “mythopoetic nuclei” of cultures. While myths are understood as repetitive, ‘timeless’ narratives, the timeline of political regimes is embedded in historical time. The main objective of this project is to produce a cogent theory of how mythological narratives underpin identity in the political field in the contemporary world.

Publications from Cristin

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UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser