Religion in slums

More than half of the population of Mumbai lives in so-called slums.

In fact, the city is divided into at least two types of spaces: a modern, global and desirable city of glamor and a backward, local, and undesirable one (Nijman 2010). While there is some disagreement what the concept of a slum actually refers to (Nijman 2010), slums are a recurrent theme in the literature on Mumbai. Given the precarious living-conditions in slums, the literature has dealt with various social issues. Much of the literature on slum issues gives the impression that the survival struggle of slum residents leaves little space for cultural and religious activities. Behind this one finds a combination of scholarly disinterest in religious matters and a lack of understanding of the religious and cultural agency and creativity of slum residents. A preliminary earlier study has pointed to the omnipresence of religion in Dharavi (Fuchs 2005, 2006). Temples, shrines, mosques, churches, viharas and gurudwaras dot the site of Dharavi, the religious services in many cases being organized by local residents themselves. A first mosque was already built when the slum was originally established at the end of the 19th century. One characteristic of slums is the dense functional and spatial integration of fields that tend to be differentiated in other spatial settings, as is the informal mode of social governance, a significant feature that had been overlooked for a long time (Fuchs 2005; Nijman 2010). Not only is Dharavi a site of religious innovation sometimes transgressing earlier forms of social boundaries. Moreover, in their aspirations for upward mobility universalistic religions or religious movements have been of particular attraction for the socially disadvantaged sections of the people (Fuchs 2005, 2006).

The project will build on this line of inquiry and provide an analysis of the different modes of religious practice, inter-religiosity and social-political significance of religion in the forgotten half of the city with the help of ethnographic fieldwork.

Project by Martin Fuchs, University of Erfurt