Princeton University Press (December 2003 US; January 2004 UK)
Much has changed for the priests at the Minakshi Temple, one of the most famous Hindu temples in India. In The Renewal of the Priesthood, CJ Fuller traces their improving fortunes over the past 25 years. This fluidly written book is unique in showing that traditionalism and modernity are actually reinforcing each other among these priests, a process in which the state has played a crucial role.
Since the mid-1980s, growing urban affluence has seen more people spend more money on rituals in the Minakshi Temple, which is in the southern city of Madurai. The priests have become better off and some have also found new earnings opportunities in temples as far away as America. During the same period, due partly to growing Hindu nationalism in India, the Tamilnadu state government's religious policies have become more favourable toward Hinduism and Brahman temple priests. More priests' sons now study in religious schools where they learn authoritative Sanskrit ritual texts by heart, and overall educational standards have markedly improved.
Chris Fuller is professor of anthropology at LSE. His books include The Camphor Flame and Servants of the Goddess.