Syncretism Revisited: Hindus and Muslims over a Saintly Cult in Bengal

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Abstract

This paper reconsiders the concept of “syncretism,” and identifies its range and implications when applied to the analysis of the saintly cult of the Hindus and Muslims in Bengal. The mausoleum of Manamohan Datta (1877–1909) is situated in what is currently eastern Bangladesh. Both Hindus and Muslims in the area join together in the various rituals held at the mausoleum. The article discusses the social and cultural factors that explain the sharing of rituals and beliefs by these people. In particular, word correspondences in the religious vocabulary facilitates the mutual acceptance of different cultural forms and norms. The article also examines the critical discourses on syncretistic situations related to the mausoleum in the context of contemporary Bangladesh. Finally, the article discusses the usefulness of the concept of syncretism in elucidating the social and cultural conditions which make possible religious pluralism and multiple discourses. The article opens with a literature review and a statement of the problems. This is followed by a brief history of Saint Manomohan and a description of the ritual practices at the mausoleum. The pluralistic structure of these practices is then examined, and the conditions for acceptance of pluralistic practices are discussed with reference to the critical discourses conducted by the local population. The findings are summed up in a conclusion.

Syncretism Revisited: Hindus and Muslims over a Saintly Cult in Bengal

in Numen

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