Guru logics

Jacob Copeman, Aya Ikegame


This commentary highlights the diversity of thematics and conceptual schema generated by guru-ship, and its capacity—as a set of principles as much as specific persons—to participate in, and move between, multiple social and conceptual domains. The aim is to reassess some of the key existing literature on guru-ship while developing a kind of analytical toolkit in order to aid future studies and stimulate new thought on the phenomenon. The guru, we argue, is a social form of peculiar suggestibility. We suggest that the multiplicity and diversity of the guru’s political and economic entanglements point toward a sense of the guru’s uncontainability, a quality which, in a seeming irony, relies at least in part on the guru’s ability to contain diverse others (principally his/her devotees and former incarnations). We present the case study of an avatar guru—a particularly prolific “collector of associations”—who exemplifies the expansive personhood of the guru as an “inclusive singularity.” Emphasising the plural forms of guru-ship, we define categories of anti-guru and collective guru while also drawing attention to the guru’s mimetic proficiency and the complex role of the guru in imagination and fantasy and gender politics. The political and governmental functions of guru-ship are also analysed, with “guru governmentality” not “just another” agency of devolved governance in an era of economic liberalisation but the retooling of the radical asymmetry of the guru-devotee relationship in order to produce “humanitarian” or “developmental” effects, which from devotees’ point of view could hardly be glossed as “secular”.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau2.1.014