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Vernacular Religion by David N. Gellner

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Cultural Politics, Community Belonging, and personal Practice in the UK's Nepali Diaspora

Nepalis in the UK are one of Britain’s newest ethnic minority communities. Already highly visible because of the Gurkha connection, in an extraordinarily short time they have made their mark on the British landscape and created 100s of community organizations.

  • How far does this impressive associational impulse simply re-create patterns found in Nepal and how far does it represent a series of new departures?
  • Does the new context in which Nepalis find themselves prevent them from following certain traditional practices (e.g. shamanism)? Does it also liberate them and enable other practices?
  • Do the social hierarchies and historical distinctions of Nepal still matter in the UK?
  • How much of a gap is there between public performance and private practice? And why is the gap bigger in some cases than in others?
  • Faced with the inescapable imperative to act ritually (after death, for example), how do UK-based Nepalis respond to these various dilemmas?
  • What debates are generated when UK Nepalis attempt to map the Enlightenment distinctions of culture, religion, and politics on to inherited Nepali practices? Does the characteristic Nepali (and indeed Asian) polytropic approach to religion have something to teach us about how religion should be approached in general?

These essays—all products of the Vernacular Religion project (2009–12), part of the AHRC’s Religion and Society programme—attempt to address these questions on the basis of detailed field research. They seek to provide an introduction to the full range of religious arguments and experiences of the UK’s diverse Nepali population.