“A vibrant actor in the contemporary transformations of Christianity, North American Christian contemplatives’ desire for an unknowable yet intimate divine opens up a universe of interreligious expression and communion with people around the world. ”
North Americans have become more and more deeply engaged with unboundaried religious networks and lived religion despite the membership decline of mainline churches. Springing from my decade of anthropological research with the vibrant and growing American contemplative Christianity movement, this new study will focus on the movement’s strong thrust toward interreligious and global practice. In particular, the proposed project will explore the motivations behind some North Americans’ desire for the rigorous ritual and intentional lifeways of Vedanta Hinduism, and will examine how and to what degree their dedication to interreligious dialogue and learning modifies mainline churches. North Americans’ interest in Vedanta Hinduism is certainly not new, but its character, prevalence, and intensity have changed with increased global mobility, shifting immigration patterns, and the ubiquity of digital media. Utilizing an intimate, on-the-ground ethnographic approach, this work will investigate several North American parishes and monasteries that are influenced by Vedanta Hinduism to varied degrees, undertake in-depth interviews with interreligious practitioners, and follow pilgrims to South Indian Christian-Hindu ashrams. A combination of pluralism and globalization studies, ritual theory, and phenomenology of perception theory will help me analyze how interreligious, transcultural social connections, ritual practices, and intentional living reshape social systems, religious groupings, and institutions, as well as transform ways of being and thinking among geographically dispersed practitioners.