Professor nets fellowship to finish book on religious guru

Srinivas draws on experience with devotees, investigates global influence of Sai Baba’s influence

Although he lives a modest lifestyle, Satya Sai Baba has managed to become a religious guru for over 10 million devotees worldwide, according to Smriti Srinivas, associate professor in anthropology.

Sai Baba has attracted followers from various social and religious backgrounds, a movement Srinivas said to be a “transnational phenomenon.”

After 10 years of research and field work in India, Kenya and the United States, Srinivas said she is ready to finish her book on this religious guru and his global influence.

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded Srinivas in February a one-year fellowship that allows her to conduct full-time research as she completes her book. She will begin her one-year research fellowship January 2006.


Besides finishing her book on the international Sai Baba movement, Srinivas is currently doing field study for her next book on the Sai Baba movement, specifically in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Srinivas visited devotees in Colombo in December when the tsunami struck the coast of southern Asia.

While Jesus Christ is venerated in the Christian religion, Sai Baba is often viewed as a Christ-like figure in his own movement.

Beginning at the age of 14, Sai Baba began his mission as a religious guru and claimed to be able to produce miracles, such as materializing sacred ash and curing the sick, according to Srinivas.

Srinivas said what is most striking about this religious movement is the different people of various races and social classes who are interested in this figure. Sai Baba has both Hindu and Muslim followers from India — two groups in the midst of a religious conflict.

“The movement transcends a lot of boundaries and divisions,” she said. “He is regarded by many as a divine being.”

Along with studying the worldwide impact of the religious guru, Srinivas will also address the movement’s relations with modernity.

With much of the world today based on rationality — such as scientific research — Srinivas said this “movement penetrates the modern, rational framework of society.”

Many devotees have claimed that they have communicated with the guru with acts that may be perceived as irrational — dreams and other “magical happenings.”

Srinivas spoke with a devotee who said she connected with the guru while searching the Internet. The devotee came across a poem which became a medium for communication with the guru, according to Srinivas.

“Sai Baba told her that she is not alone in her journey,” Srinivas said.

Vivian Choi, a graduate student in anthropology, said she saw firsthand the importance Sai Baba held in the family she stayed with while studying in Nepal.

“He is very inspirational and charismatic,” she said. “He is somebody that [followers] can look up to and turn to.”

Srinivas said it was impossible not to take Sai Baba and his movement seriously during her childhood in India, and is amazed by the spiritual message the movement possesses.

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“We often think of power in terms of politics,” she said. “The power in this movement is derived from the fact that people feel loved by him.”

Sai Baba’s organization has provided services for the world by constructing two medical institutions in India that offer free health care to the poor. A few hours after last December’s tsunami struck South Asia, devotees of Sai Baba sent truckloads of clothes and blankets to aid the victims, according to Srinivas.

“All this work is done through voluntary service and devotion to the guru,” Srinivas said.

Religious studies instructor Nicole Ranganath, who used one of Srinivas’ articles in her class, said Srinivas is a creative, novel and deep thinker.

“She is a phenomenal scholar,” she said. “She is researching one of the most popular leaders today. Sai Baba is a fascinating, progressive figure.”

Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The California Aggie, USA
Apr. 7, 2005
Stephanie Zou, Aggie News Writer
www.californiaaggie.com

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