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Prea Persaud

Department of Religion
2017-2018 Rothman Doctoral Fellow

Prea Persaud, doctoral candidate in the Department of Religion, used her 2017-2018 Rothman Doctoral Fellowship to travel to Trinidad to document Hindu temples and rituals through photography and participant-observation interviews. She also met with prominent Caribbean scholars and conducted archival research at the National Archives of Trinidad, the University of the West Indies, and at the temples she visited in South Trinidad. Persaud’s research addresses the ways in which Hindu organizations have sacralized the local landscape of Trinidad by drawing on two different types of memory, one personal and one collective.

The indentured labor trade brought approximately half a million workers from India to the Caribbean between 1838 and 1917. These communities developed their own form of Hinduism reflecting the restrictions of plantation life, the tensions with the Afro-Caribbean community, and the influence of both the Presbyterian Church and Arya Samaj missionaries. A version of Hinduism emerges from the particularities of the Caribbean and the land of their ancestors. Present-day Indo-Caribbeans maintain their hyphenated identities by turning to India to claim authenticity for their beliefs and practices and reforming their traditions to reflect the needs of the Caribbean community. Persaud’s work analyzes and compares two prominent Hindu temples in Trinidad to determine what characteristics shape Caribbean Hinduism and to challenge categories of religion which reinforce colonial assumptions about civilization and culture.

Persaud argues that Indo-Trinidadians establish themselves as a Caribbean religion by appealing to local nationalist discourses, inscribing itself on the local landscape, and creating new traditions. In order to express their hyphenated identities, Indo-Trinidadian Hindus draw on multiple pasts which both connects them to and distances them from India. By explaining the shifting relationship between the two parts of hyphenated Indo-Caribbean identity, Persaud illustrates how Indo-Trinidadians both challenge and reclaim colonial narratives. Thus, she explores the factors that shift emphasis of one identity over another, highlighting the fluid nature of diasporic religious communities.