Agonistic intimacy and moral aspiration in popular Hinduism: A study in the political theology of the neighbor

by Bhrigupati Singh

In what ways do potentially hostile neighboring groups find a place in each other's moral aspirations? I analyze the arrival of a “new” god, the oral-epic deity Tejaji, in the villages of Shahbad (Rajasthan, India) and the modes of relatedness this divine migration expresses between neighboring castes and tribes. How do we conceptualize relations between neighbors? I set out the idea of “agonistic intimacy” as a way of engaging the copresence of conflict and cohabitation. Placing Tejaji in relation to longer-term currents of Hinduism, I examine the conflicts, neighborly relations, and shared moral aspirations that animate this form of religious life. I locate spiritual–moral aspirations not necessarily in “otherworldliness” but as a political theology of the neighbor, conceiving of the neighbor as human and nonhuman (as deity, spirit, and animal), in ways that widen the definition of “the political” and of “theos.”