Religious change in Jain diaspora: an ethnographic study of the Leicester Jain community
This thesis is guided by a seemingly simple question: How does the practice and interpretation of religion change as a consequence of migration and life in diaspora? It aims to answer this question by focusing on the community of Jains living in Leicester (England, UK) and utilising a two-sited ethnographic methodology (comparing the Leicester community with the Jains living in Jamnagar [Gujarat, India]) to provide an in-depth examination of religious change in the diasporic community. After an introduction to the religious tradition of Jainism, the Leicester Jain community, and the research design of my doctoral project (Chapter 1: Introduction), I situate the study within the broader academic discussion by exploring how different definitions of ‘diaspora’ and theories of religion in diaspora fit the case study of Leicester Jains (Chapter 2: Leicester Jains as Diaspora), before delving into the ethnographic data at the core of the thesis. First I examine the influence of the community’s migration history on their present-day religious practice and trace the influences of ascetic absence, loosened structures of religious transmission, and lower religious saturation of their environments on the formation of three distinct generations within the community (Chapter 3: Historical Trajectory). Stemming from the generational division within the Leicester Jain community arose two distinct styles of religious practice: the youth practice a more individual, introspective, and doctrinal form of Jainism, while the older generation typically employs a more ritual-based, communal, and traditional style of practice. I explore this bifurcation through the dichotomy of ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’ and shine a light on the linguistic, geographical, and educational aspects of the youth’s Jain practice (Chapter 4: Intergenerational Innovation). My next focus on everyday (im)practicalities of living in diaspora brings the whole community together again in an examination of the Leicester Jain Centre and how its worship space and its use signal intra-community hierarchies, and how individuals’ status within the community can be communicated through the avoidance of particular doctrinally proscribed food items (Chapter 5: Transforming the Everyday). Then we are transported to the non-diasporic city of Jamnagar, where I examine the role of Jain worship spaces, the impact of the Jain ascetics’ presence, and the influence of the wider social context on the Jamnagar Jain groups, while remaining in conversation with the Leicester field site (Chapter 6: Echoes from India). Before concluding the thesis by offering a short reflection of the difficulties of studying change (Chapter 8: Conclusion), I draw together the data presented in the thesis, examine internal and external influences engendering religious change in the Leicester Jain community, and construct a model of societal influence on religious practice (Chapter 7: Diasporic Reverberations).