Millenarian dreams, modern aspirations: tribal community-making and contentious politics in colonial Chotanagpur

by Uday Chandra

Working Papers WP 14-01
April 2014
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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This paper interrogates the concept of “millenarianism,” which has been employed since the 1970s in South Asia and beyond to read subaltern religious movements in an anti-colonial, even proto-nationalist, light. I demonstrate that this anti-colonial reading of millenarian pasts rests on a secular understanding of subaltern politics that avoids a serious study of socio-religious change. Modern statecraft is treated by such scholars, following Max Weber, as secular, and subalterns are then taken to be an oppositional category in which secularization has not yet occurred. Against such a perspective on subaltern-state relations in modern colonial and postcolonial contexts, this paper deploys a range of oral and archival sources to delineate the relationship between socio-religious change and agrarian transformations, thereby revealing the curious modernity of millenarianism among the Mundas, an adivasi or “tribal” group in the Chotanagpur region of eastern India.

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