Religion – Knowledge – Discourse

Johanna Sieben

PhD project:

Body, Religion and Power - Transformations of Images of Body and Gender in the Religious Sphere in South Asia


The state of India as a relatively new state in the political web of the world, has experienced major changes and transformations over the last few decades. Due to the influence of colonialism, during the struggle for independence, in the years following the independence movement and continuing in the present time, categories of political power have been constantly altered. Two of those political categories of power which hold significance in the public, as well as in the private, are the categories “Gender/Body” and “Religion”. Both have been used and still continue to be used as tools for the exercise of power and for the purpose of essentializing subjects within a certain political sphere, to be able to construct a relatively closed and limited political space. To construct the colonial state of British India “Religion” and also “Body/Gender” of the colonized have been constructed as a significant “Other” in order to build up, justify and maintain imperial aspirations.


This dissertation will focus on the question in which ways the images of body and gender within the religious sphere in India have changed, the influence colonialism had on those changes and the importance and meaning those colonial images bear in contemporary India, and within global discourses and interactions. One important aspect of this thesis is the question, in which ways the construction of Hinduism as static religion during the 18th century - an interplay between local Brahmins and British elites - had political power and how this influenced perceptions of body, gender and political space. The focus will be laid on three specific religious phenomena, which are closely related to questions of body and gender. A central question is as well, if India, according to the mentioned categories, must still be called a “postcolonial” state or if this term undermines the autonomous developments of this growing society.



Johanna Sieben, born 1986, did her B.A. at Ruhr Universität Bochum in the field of Literature and Theatre Studies and her M.A. at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in Religion and Culture. During the B.A. she did an exchange semester in Antwerp, Belgium. After the B.A. she worked for a NGO in India and as Project Coordinator and Translator in Budapest, Hungary. Since April 2014 she is working on her PhD project „The Transformations of the Perceptions of Body and Gender in the Religious Sphere in South Asia“ and participates in the structured PhD Program „Religion – Knowledge – Discourses“ at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her research interests and the focus of her dissertation are South Asia Studies, Gender Studies and Postcolonial Studies.