Peace and harmony appear so closely woven in every cell of her being that the spirits of darkness would search in vain for a loophole.
–Melita Maschmann, Encountering Bliss: My Journey through India with Ānandamayī Mā
My PhD was in the area of Religion and Society, sociology religion and social ethics, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Previously, as Master’s student at the Maryknoll School of Theology, I studied with Venezuelan sociologist Otto Maduro, who had written a sociology of Latin American religion employing ideas from Pierre Bourdieu. It was an exhilarating study which made sense of that part of the Catholic Church that had been making a preferential option for the poor.
Over the last several years, I’ve read several works on the life and influence of the Bengali spiritual force, Sri Anandamayi Ma. I was delighted to read a new book by Orianne Aymard, who employs theorists like Bourdieu, Jurgen Habermas, and Max Weber to make sense of how a community and institution continue after the death of the charismatic leader. Her title reveals the stakes of this inquiry: When a Goddess Dies: Worshipping Ma Anandamayi after Her Death (Oxford University Press, 2014). The author investigate topics like the postmortem cult of the guru, the significance of relics, the meanings of the guru’s death, dreams and visions of the guru after death, and the future of the cult, given the struggle over the monopoly of religious power.
Dr. Aymard interviewed devotees, both Indian and Western, old-timers and new enthusiasts, and I found fascinating what they had to say about her. Here is a small sample: Read the rest of this entry »