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Textualizing ethical selves : the rahitname and the formation of moral Sikh communities in the early eighteenth century Gedda, Peder


This dissertation engages with the topic of early modern community formation in South Asia. It focuses on a didactic form of literature of religious ethics and behavior regulation in the Sikh religion known as the rahitname and asks why the two earliest texts of this genre were produced at all. The dissertation is based on primary documentation, and situates these texts in the historical and cultural context of the frontier regions of Northwest India. By doing so, we arrive at a more nuanced understanding of the role that normative textual production played in the articulation of Sikh self-understanding - particularly in the case of the Khalsa - an emergent order within the broader Sikh community - amidst the various complex competing configurations of religious and political power in the early eighteenth century. Additionally it situates the cultural production of the Sikh Khalsa in relation to other religious groups such as Sufis, Vaishnava groups, and Nath yogis, who were politically and culturally present in that milieu. The dissertation locates the production of the manuals in two separate locations, one in Punjab and the other in Maharashtra, and argues that the emergent Khalsa embarked upon localized forms of religious ethics as an expression of power and prestige. The dissertation further argues that this production of religious ethics took place in competition with other religious groups as well as a transfer of charismatic religious appeal from the last human Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who was assassinated in 1708 just prior to the writing of the two texts, to the members of the Khalsa. Finally, the study concludes that the texts are based on the personal, charismatic bond between the Guru and the Khalsa order, and that they were meant to be memorized by the members of the Khalsa. The texts thus represent a Khalsa claim to prestige and power through a religious charismatic appeal, in two different geocultural environments.

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