A Sociological Study of the Sai Baba Movement in Singapore

Ms Nagah Devi Ramasamy
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The research is an ethnographic and qualitative study of the Sathya Sai Baba- a global neo- spiritual movement (and its various centers) in Singapore. This particular paper’s research agenda is two fold: (1) A local manifestation of an India- derived spiritual organization in the sector of charities and social services in the community spheres of Singapore has been observed [acting in accordance to a permanent global charter granted by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba (a living God-man/ Guru) to the Sri Sai Organizations- a Spiritual organization founded for the whole of mankind for the purposes of contributing to and maintaining human welfare in the form of spiritual, educational and charitable services, not recognizing any distinction or separateness on the basis of religion, caste, colour or creed]. My research endeavors to identify and understand the drivers behind the movement that motivate them to undertake social services to the needy members of the public regardless of race and religion. (2) Secondly, the participation of a large proportion of Chinese and Indian devotees within the spiritual movement is observed. In the midst of seeking to extricate the kind of intra- faith and inter- ethnic dialogues that might possibly arise from such active interaction within the group’s local membership, the preliminary findings however craved out major questions about the issue of identity, as adopted by the devotees within the movement. Certain taken for granted identity markers such as ‘religion’, ‘religiosity’, ‘spirituality’, ‘Hindu- based’, ‘neo-Hindu’, ‘ritualistic’, ‘Sai devotee’ and labels ‘multi- racial and multi- ethnic’ began to get problematised both at the macro level of the Sathya Sai Organization and the micro level of the devotees and members. A sociological scrutiny of these terms in the practice of the Sathya Sai movement is imperative and timely, in contemporary Singapore where the movement is fast- growing in appeal to many Singaporeans and expatriates of multi- ethnic and multi- religious backgrounds. As an end- result, new areas or recommendations for future development of social services as well as in the communal identity- creating process within the Sai Baba movement is hoped for after ascertaining possible gaps in the current involvement.

Keywords: Sociological & Ethnographic Account, Sai Baba Movement, Social Services, Inter & Intra- Faith Dialogues
Stream: Sociology and Geography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Ms Nagah Devi Ramasamy

M.Soc.Sci (by research) Candidate, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore

Nagah Devi completed her undergraduate degree at the National University of Singapore (NUS), graduating with a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree (in Sociology) with Honours in 2004. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Sociology by research at NUS. Her current research is qualitative and ethnographic in orientation and is concerned with a detailed examination of the Sathya Sai Baba movement (and its various centers) in Singapore. The particular emphasis in this research project is on the social service and voluntaristic dimension of the group’s agenda, as well as the multi- ethnic and multi- religious features of the group’s local membership. Her research interests include the sociology of religion, new religious movements, voluntarism, urban anthropology, racial and ethnic studies and gender studies. She is presently working on two book chapters’ publications with the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), expected to be out in the third quarter of 2006. During her tenure as a master’s student at the Department, she has also undertaken some part- time undergraduate teaching. In addition she has worked as research assistant for lecturers from the departments of Sociology, History and South Asian Studies. Her hobbies include engaging in: pool, driving, traveling, jigsaws, cycling, nature- walking, movies, comics and music.

Ref: I06P0273