A new book by York sociology Professor Hira Singh confronts mainstream sociological theories of caste, arguing that caste hierarchy has its roots in political economy rather than religion.
In Recasting Caste: From the Sacred to the Profane, Singh disagrees with Louis Dumont’s views as stated in his book Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and its Implications (most popular theory of caste so far) and its main source, Max Weber’s distinction between class and status.
“Conventional wisdom on caste is idealist, and most students of the subject therefore exaggerate ritual homogeneity and deflect attention from intra-caste differentiation and inequality,” says Singh.
In contrast, by focusing on intra-caste differences, Singh demonstrates that caste is grounded in a monopoly of land rights and political power supported by religious and secular ideologies. Drawing on the sociological, anthropological and historical literature, as well as primary sources, Recasting Caste refutes the widespread claim that, in India, caste consciousness always trumps class consciousness.
It questions the twin myths that caste is a product of Hinduism and that caste is essential to the survival of Hinduism. By doing so, it reorients the entire field of study.
Before coming to York University, Singh taught sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, as well as various other universities in Canada, including Wilfrid Laurier University, Victoria University, St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick. He is also the author of Colonial Hegemony and Popular Resistance: Princes, Peasants, and Paramount Power.
For more information, visit the Recasting Caste website.