In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Diaspora Hinduism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Adaption, Assimilation, and Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Theoretical Perspectives
  • Historical Studies

Hinduism Diaspora Hinduism
Frank Korom
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 January 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0016


The study of global diasporas has grown considerably over the past thirty years. The interest in studying diasporas is closely linked with the rise of studies dealing with transnationalism and globalization in the humanistic and social sciences more generally, which became a major interdisciplinary area of inquiry in the mid-1980s. Diaspora studies finally achieved academic legitimacy with the establishment of the journal titled Diaspora in 1991. The term diaspora was not used extensively in early studies of nonresident Indians, and, with some exceptions, not many studies of Hindu communities living outside of India were written prior to the 1970s. But the fact of the matter is that Hindus have been traveling and settling abroad for much of history, and most likely even prehistory. The focus in this article is on early studies of migration, indentureship, brain drain, and contemporary movements resulting from transnationalism and globalization.

General Overviews

One category of studies pertaining to diaspora focuses on presenting data on the South Asian diaspora in general. Inevitably, studies such as Cumpston 1953 and Williams 1988 contain a wealth of information on Hindus and Hinduism specifically. The term diaspora as used in academic contexts is still multifarious and open to refinement, but enough has been written on the South Asian diaspora to open up a broader dialogue, which is much needed. Although a great deal of interest was generated in the 1960s and 1970s over the apparent invasion of the West by spiritual teachers from South Asia, it was mostly a popular concern over conversion to their so-called cults that drew attention to the guru invasion. It was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that South Asianists seriously considered the Indian diaspora a topic worthy of study. A few historical surveys, such as Gangulee 1947 and Kondapi 1951, as well as case studies, such as Klass 1988 and Niehoff and Niehoff 1960, were produced prior to the 1980s. Cumpston 1953 also provides a valuable survey of “overseas” Indians in the British Empire during the early years of indenture. Such studies were important for surveying the field generally in the case of the former and providing in-depth case studies in the latter. But it was not until the late 1980s that a proliferation of publications focusing on specific South Asian communities, such as Williams 1988, began to appear. Lal, et al. 2007 provides a handy and factual overview of the Indian diaspora.

  • Cumpston, I. M. Overseas Indians in British Territories, 1834–1854. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953.

    A seminal survey of two important decades of labor migration that is a must for studying the formative years of indentureship under the British, when significant numbers of Indians went abroad to work on estates of various sorts.

  • Gangulee, Nagendranath. Indians in the Empire Overseas. London: New India Publishing House, 1947.

    One of the first surveys of Indians living outside of India, making it a valuable foundational study full of relevant information. Provides necessary background reading for students of South Asian diaspora.

  • Klass, Morton. East Indians in Trinidad: A Study in Cultural Persistence. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1988.

    An early anthropological study of East Indians in a specific location, with an emphasis on the retention of ethnic and religious traits, rather than complete assimilation. Originally published 1961.

  • Kondapi, C. Indians Overseas, 1838–1949. New Delhi: Indian Council of World Affairs, 1951.

    An important early survey that provides supplementary data to Gangulee 1947 by reviewing developments after the decline of indentured labor up until Indian independence.

  • Lal, Brij V., Peter Reeves, and Rajesh Rai, eds. The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007.

    An important reference work that covers a wide range of issues pertaining to the global settlement of Indians.

  • Niehoff, Arthur, and Juanita Niehoff. East Indians in the West Indies. Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1960.

    General in orientation, focusing on the adaptation of various facets of East Indian life in the Caribbean. Also contains substantial information on religious practices, providing a good complement to Klass 1988.

  • Williams, Raymond Brady. Religions of Immigrants from India and Pakistan: New Threads in the American Tapestry. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    Surveys contemporary South Asian communities using a “cultural adaptation” model to suggest that immigrants always reshape their worldview in new settings. The focus on religion in forging new identities abroad provides continuity with the past through strong ties to the homeland. The main contribution is that adaptation requires an ongoing process of negotiation between immigrants and their hosts.

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