Circuits of Secularity or the Aesthetics of Religion in an Age of Cities and Citations


This article explores the circulation of contemporary discourses on religion and secularity in the western Himalayas. It traces a media circuit from Himachal Pradesh’s remote villages to its urban centers and back again, using the circuit as a hermeneutic to illuminate how religion and the city become mutually constituted problems in need of definition, defense or reform. The conjoined circulation of ‘religion’ and ‘the city’— both as discursive products and as lived realities — has restructured how Himachalis understand, perform and problematize relations to local deities and the rites they enjoin as well as performances in and reflections on urban spaces and their rural exteriors. In this new circulatory system, the individual becomes the foundation of authority, the state trumps competing organizational forms, deities become metaphysical abstractions, particular beliefs are repurposed as religion, and villages emerge as ‘heritage’ to be promoted and observed. I use this argument to show why, despite the self‐evidence of religion’s meaning for those mobilizing its powers, a stable definition must remain forever a chimera.