"We Were Always Buddhist": Dalit Conversion, Sexual Modernity, and the Time of Emancipation


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Research Fellowships in Buddhist Studies




“We Were Always Buddhist” investigates the sexual politics of lived Buddhism through an ethnography of religious conversion in contemporary South India. Converts follow the call of B.R. Ambedkar to become Buddhist in order to exit what he framed as “the hell of Hinduism”. Drawing on 14 months of field research, I elaborate the unfolding of emancipation across time and show that for Ambedkarite Buddhists, emancipation from caste is a project that must be worked out in the past, present, and future. This framework sheds new light on respectability politics in between community uplift and the emancipation of women, illuminates religious conversion as an ongoing process rather than a discrete event, and highlights the epistemological and political particularities of Buddhism in India today.