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BoundariesofBelonging - Redefining the Boundaries of...

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Redefining the Boundaries of Belonging: The Transnationalization of Religious Life Peggy Levitt Spring quietly announced its arrival on that early New York morning in March. New buds softened the stark winter branches. Business owners swept the sidewalks and arranged their fruits and vegetables as I walked along street after nearly-empty street. Fathers sleepwalked through their Saturday morning ritual of taking the baby out to the local coffee shop so their wives could get more rest. Early spring in New York, comfortingly predictable. But New York is never just about the familiar but about surprise as well. I was on my way to a memorial service for the Reverend Pan- durangshastri Athavale, or, as his followers called him, Dadaji, the leader of the Swadhyaya movement in India, who died in November 2003. The leaders of the Swadhyaya Parivar or "Swadhyaya family" in Lowell, Massachusetts, who I befriended while working on this proj- ect, had invited me to attend the ceremony. As I made my way over to the Jacob Javits Convention Center, I noticed the many little prepara- tions under way that I would have missed had I not had "tickets." Cars crammed full with large extended families hurried to find spaces in the neighborhood parking lots. Dozens of yellow school buses trans- ported Swadhyayees from all over the region to the convention center doors. And groups of followers, wearing name tags written in Gujarati pinned to the lapels of their winter coats, were being shepherded over to the gathering from Penn Station. While New York woke up and grew busy with shoppers, tourists, and antiwar protesters, the curtain was rising on an important yet barely noticed sideshow.
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:O4 RELIGION "OUT OF PLACE It was a wonderful, enlightening performance. By the end of the day, more han ~o,ooo mourners from all over the East Coast would pay their respects. A representative from the New York City mayois office, who attended a special ~ommemorative ceremony in the afternoon, declared March zo Dadaji's day on the city's calendar. All through the month of March, Didiji, his successor, presided over similar events in Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, and other North American cities where there are also laige Swadhyaya communities. Similar gatherings, also below the radar screen of most Americans, happen regularly around the country. When Americans tune into these events, they of- ten do so against the backdrop of September 11. Through that lens, foreign-born Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and even Evangelical Protestants and their native- born offspring are often seen as a threat by those who fear religion's expanding role in American society and its increasingly diverse character. A careful look at how migrants' are changing America's religious land- scape reveals a much more complex story about the United States and the world at large. The fact that Swadhyaya leaders had the strength and power to organize an event at New YorKs main convention center attended by local politicians attests to how well this community is integrating itself into the United States. At the same time, by participating in Swadhyaya, its members
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BoundariesofBelonging - Redefining the Boundaries of...

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