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Saving ISKCON to Save the World: Constructing a “Hopeful” Reform Movement in an American Hindu Group

Sun, June 26, 10:30am to 12:20pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: BF, 002


In 1965, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami left his home in India and boarded a freight ship to the United States in hopes of starting a world-wide devotional movement (ISKCON) that he believed would bring not only global love of Krishna, but also world peace, the end of suffering and addiction, and positive environmental policy change. Though Bhaktivedanta’s movement was initially successful in the United States, recent decades brought the movement a series of problems, and many of Bhaktivedanta’s devotees are left saddened and frustrated at what they see to be their collective failure in achieving their guru’s lofty goals. In this paper, I explore the following question: how do ISKCON devotees theologize hope in response to their perceived sense of failure? And what paths of action do they construct as they attempt to reinvigorate the movement and fulfill their guru’s utopian world-saving vision? In this paper, I explore one such path of action: the new, yet rapidly growing ISKCON reform movement called Krishna West. I demonstrate that for Krishna West, a hopeful ISKCON—one poised to fulfill the high visions of ISKCON’s founder—is one that is utterly removed from all of the “traditional” ethnic and religious “trappings” typically associated with ISKCON (e.g., its distinctive rituals, dress, and over-adherence to particular creeds). I argue, therefore, that for Krishna West, a hopeful ISKCON is one whose notion of “core” has been radically redefined, and re-mapped to include just a small number of (“non-sectarian,” “universal” and “universally appealing”) dimensions.