Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

South Asia Regional Studies

First Advisor

Justin McDaniel


Swadhyaya and the Chinmaya Mission are two rapidly growing modern Indian religious movements that have developed a contemporary discourse on the moral self--a theory and practice centered on the cultivation of an ideal human being--deeply grounded in the religious traditions of India. This discourse stands in stark contrast to conceptions of modern secular self-identity that lie at the heart of theories of modernization. Yet, it is nevertheless the case that religion is indeed only one among many competing sources of morality and authority in modernity, as modernization theorists predicted. This project asks the critical question of what makes a religious discourse on self-fashioning so remarkably appealing to the millions of Swadhyaya and Chinmaya Mission participants in modern Indian society. Based on one year of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Mumbai, India from February 2012--May 2013, this dissertation draws attention to the everyday lived practice and lived experiences of religion and ethics among followers. I demonstrate that the particular teachings of the two movements, rooted in the Hindu scriptures, provide new ways of understanding and perceiving the self, the other, and human existence that act both as a source for ethical being as well as a guide for practical living. I show that the appeal of the two movements lies in the specific ways in which their particular discourse and praxis facilitate the transformation of the self and argue that the appeal of theistic sources in modernity cannot simply be understood in terms of a religious impulse inherent to humanity or as a matter of belief or non-belief. In contrast to abstract theoretical accounts of a modern secular self-identity, this dissertation demonstrates how the modern self understood, fashioned and experienced in relation to the teachings and practices of Swadhyaya and the Chinmaya Mission challenges some of the key markers associated with modern self-identity, including self-sufficient humanism and individualism.