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Indian Cosmopolitan Alternatives (completed)

Ritual Intersections and the Regulation of Religious Offense

Lots of pictures of sacred crosses, people and others things. Photo.

Model for an unending wall of all-religion shrines

About the project

How does a state as religiously plural as India hold together? This project examined the outcome of ritual intersections and the regulation of religious offence, both of which are far more prevalent in India than in contemporary Euro-American contexts.

As previous research has shown, sacred Sufi tombs and Muslim mystics are still consulted by people from variegated religious backgrounds, many Hindus still incorporate the Sikh gurus and Jesus in their everyday ritual invocations and some Muslims still turn to Hindu goddesses for protection. But how do such ritual crossings “work”?  And how do they promote interreligious understanding beyond the ritual moment?

Research on regulation of religious offence has so far been overwhelmingly normative in its debates of whether such regulation entails a problematic or necessary limitation of free speech. In this project we rather turned our attention to the wider outcomes of such a legislation, including its apparent success in limiting controversies despite the tempered discussions it occasionally may trigger.

This project thus relied on a fine-grained examination of contemporary religious plurality in India at the same time as it aimed to put the scholarship of religious plurality in Europe in sharp relief.

Case studies

The project’s research questions were investigated by means a series of sub projects that covered a broad spectrum of religious traditions, locations and social arenas. The case studies are presented in videos.

Emerging religious diversity and intersections in Arunachal Pradesh

Virginius Xaxa

Hindu Practitioner, Islam Believer: Meo Muslims in a Hindu Neighbourhood

Mukesh Kumar


Ritual inclusivity in «Milanganj»

Kathinka Frøystad

Rituals of Unity in Hajo, Assam

Alimpana Goswami


Shrines, shops and souvenirs: Visualising cosmopolitanism in the bazaars of Amritsar

Radhika Chopra


The burden of security: Spatial regulation of religious offence and the geographies of enforcement

Vera Lazzaretti

The waking god: Desire and devotion at a sacred site in Bangaluru

Devleena Gosh



The project was funded by the The Research Council of Norway




The project was developed in cooperation with scholars at the University of Technology, Sydney, the University of Delhi and Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The project was managed by the University of Bergen, where Frøystad was employed until August 2014.


Podcast: Ritual intersections in contemporary India

People still cross religious boundaries in pursuit of divine intervention or insight, but not as as often and openly as before.


As the project came to an end in 2019, we decided to summarize our findings for you in a podcast. The podcast was recorded and put together by Devleena Ghosh at the University of Technology Sydney.

Here we discuss how religious communities cohabit in Assam and Arumachal Pradesh, where the religious demography includes sizeable Adivasi populations. We describe the boundary work of Sikhism and Ravidassia in Amritsar and Banaras. And we suggest the inadequacy of studying Catholic churches, Kali temples or Sufi shrines as spatial centers of any closed religious tradition.

The podcast includes Creative Commons music from YouTube users: World is beautiful, Subhashish Panigrahi, Neeraj Mishra, Ashfaq Mohammad, Gurbani Studio, Haq Production & Bhakti Channel; Excerpts from recordings of Merasi singers at and field recordings by Dipesh Kharel and Kathinka Frøystad. Mixed by Phonebox Productions.

As we worked on this podcast, we occasionally stretched our legs in the surrounding neighbourhood. Here we came across a sign that resonated strongly with our research. "Religion unites, not divides", it says, as if wanting to reverse the trend of religious self-sufficiency. But as our podcast suggests, there is more to this trend than meets the eye.

Film: A Kali Temple Inside Out

This ethnographic film follows devotees of the Hindu goddess Kali to understand why devout Hindus may well visit Sikh temples and Sufi-Muslim tombs besides temples for divine assistance.

India//Norway 2018, 1 h 23 min
Language: Hindi, with English subtitles
An ethnographic film by Dipesh Kharel and Frode Storaas, based on the research of Kathinka Frøystad
Awards: Winner of the Richard Werbner Award for Visual Anthropology, 2021

Religious boundaries are not necessarily as sharp and antagonistic as the news media lead us to believe. This film shows the everyday life inside and around a Kali temple in the city of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India. The temple building houses a Kali shrine and a smaller Hanuman shrine, and visitors to the site present offerings in both. Through a closer presentation of a priest and three devotees, the film shows why this temple is so important to them. Yet they also occasionally visit holy places of other religious traditions, whether to learn or seek additional divine support. The film is thus a silent critique against the obsession with religious conflict in contemporary debates.

God is one, the religions are made by humans, as the priest concludes in the film.

Public screenings

  • The Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival, 19-28 March 2021
  • Transkulturelles ethnographisches kino: Das Trierer Filmfestival, 25-31 January 2020
  • The 15th German (Göttingen) International Ethnographic Film Festival, 16 May 2020
  • Ethnofest, Athens, 1 December 2019
  • The 8th Anthropological Film Festival in Jerusalem, 28 November 2019
  • Viscult Ethnographic Documentary Film Festival, Joensuu, 22 October 2019
  • Kratovo Ethnographic Film Festival, 28 September 2019
  • VIII Moscow International Festival of Visual Anthropology, 29 June 2019
  • Tartu World Film festival, 22 March 2019
  • University of Tokyo, 11 December 2018
  • Bergen International Film Festival, 1 October 2018 (premiere)
  • South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, 9 July 2018 (preview)
  • University of Oslo, 6 June 18, as part of the ethnographic film series co-arranged by the Library for Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of Social Anthropology (preview)

Workshops and conferences

The project group meet up annually to compare notes, co-supervise PhD students and plan ahead.

2014 Startup workshop

26.-27. January 2014

A few months before the project officially started, the project partners met to fine-tune their cooperation agreement, case studies and PhD recruitment procedures.


Sunday 26 January

  • Individual research interests (former, present, future) and their relevance
    • Devleena Ghosh, Virginius Xaxa, Radhika Chopra, Kathinka Frøystad
  • Sharpening the research questions: discussion
  • Fine-tuning the case studies: discussion

Monday 27 January

  • PhD Recruitment at the respective institutions
  • Planning ahead: web pages, project schedule and next project meeting(s)

2015 Project team workshop I

2.-3. January 2015 the project team reconvened, now with three of its PhD students, to compare notes and fine-tune its perspectives further.


Friday 2 January

  • Brief self-presentations
  • Project recap (Kathinka Frøystad)
  • Individual updates, senior partners: Fieldwork plans/preliminary findings, analytical possibilities and early papers/publications, if applicable. 
    • Devleena Ghosh, Virginius Xaxa, Radhika Chopra, Kathinka Frøystad
  • Summarizing the presentations:
    • Where are we?
    • Do we address the CosmAlt project’s core questions in a sufficient manner?
    • Interesting points  of convergence/ divergence?

Saturday 3 January

  • Individual project presentations, PhD students: Research question, contextual background, analytical approaches, field sites, research methods, relevance for the CosmAlt project. 
    • Wenche Iversen (University of Bergen), Arnav Das Sharma (University of Delhi), Mukesh Kumar (University of Technology, Sydney)
  • Possible project transfer & misc (Kathinka Frøystad)
  • Planning ahead: Project Team Workshop II and Ritual Intersections Conference

2016 Project team workshop II

11.-13. January 2016

By 2016 most of the project members were well underway with fieldwork, which made it highly fruitful to compare notes again.


Monday 11 January

  • Welcome and practicalities (Kathinka Frøystad, Siri Bjaaland). Brief self-presentations and project recap for newcomers
  • Individual update: Field news, findings, preliminary analysis and individual publication plans, if applicable. 
    • Devleena Ghosh, Virginius Xaxa, Radhika Chopra, Kathinka Frøystad, Arnav Das Sharma

Tuesday 12 January

  • Individual project presentations/ updates, continued:
    • Mukesh Kumar, Alimpana Goswami
  • Update on project transfer
  • Planning the ritual crossings conference in Sydney. Main responsible: Kathinka Frøystad and Devleena Ghosh.

2017 Rethinking religious synthesis

In January 2017 the project members reconvened in Sydney along with a handful of external scholars to address the cosmopolitan potential of religious synthesis.

"Rethinking Religious Synthesis in India: An endangered cosmopolitan alternative?"

University of Technology Sydney
5-6 January 2017

Thursday 5 January

  • Naomi Goldenberg: The Contemporary Deconstruction of Religion:  How Current Scholarship in Religious Studies is Changing Methods and Theories
  • Kathinka Frøystad: Rethinking cosmopolitanism and difference: Provisional notes from a Kali temple
  • Kirin Narayan and Ken George: Religious Plurality and Creativity: Cosmopolitan Visions of an Indian Deity
  • Virginius Xaxa: Religious Identity, Ritual Crossings and Tribes
  • Devleena Ghosh: The Waking God: Desire, Concealment & Syncretic Practices at a Bangalore Church
  • Afsar Mohammad: Lost and Found: The Complicated Narrative of an “impure” Islam and “Fake” Sufism
  • Alimpana Goswami: Mosaic Rituals among the Indigenous Assamese Muslims in Hajo

Friday 6 January

  • Arnav Das Sharma: Ravidassia: Cultural Hybridity, Religious Practice and Community
  • Radhika Chopra: Bazaar Divinity
  • Mukesh Kumar: Religious Synthesis in a Hindu-Muslim Saint: Crossings and Dwellings
  • Ronie Parciack: Beyond Mecca, beyond Ajmer: Indian Sufi Spaces betwixt and between Brahmanism and Islam(s)
  • Project team meeting

Containing religious offence in South Asia

In June 2018 we invited a group of international scholars to the University of Oslo to discuss how religious offence can be contained in ways that prevent large-scale controversies.


Venue: Meeting room, Niels Treschows hus, 12th floor (map)

Wednesday 6 June (voluntary for early birds)

  • Book launch (in Norwegian): Kristin Hansen: Women, Religion and the Body in South Asia: Living with Bengali Bauls, in the HumSam library, Georg Sverdrup’s house (more info and map)
  • Ethnographic film screening: A Kali temple inside out (pre-premiere) by Dipesh Kharel and Frode Storaas, based on the research of Kathinka Frøystad, in Auditorium 1, Georg Sverdrup’s house (more info and map).

Thursday 7 June

  • Kathinka Frøystad: Welcome and introduction
  • Session one (Chair: Kathinka Frøystad)
    • Margrit Pernau :Communal riots and the new masculinity
    • Mukesh Kumar (PhD candidate): One half temple, the other half mosque: ārti and namāz in a shrine and the matter of religious contestation
    • Discussants: Atreyee Sen, Arild Engelsen Ruud
  • Session two (Chair: Kathinka Frøystad)
    • Vera Lazzaretti: Securitisation and the facets of offence at the centre of Banaras
    • Ronie Parciack: No offense: Who threw down the idols at Dargah Shareefuddin in Hyderabad?
    • Discussants: Asad Ali Ahmed, Virginius Xaxa
  • Session Three (Chair: Vera Lazzaretti)
    • Devleena Ghosh: “We don’t talk about it”: Silence, concealment and distance at the Infant Jesus shrine in Bangalore
    • Amélie Blom: The rose with harmless thorns. Reflexive accounts on the conditions of offense toleration in Pakistan
    • Discussants: Ute Hüsken, Vera Lazzaretti
  • Session four (Chair: Vera Lazzaretti)
    • Kerstin Schier: Re-enactments of mutual insult
    • Discussants: Margrit Perneau, Kathinka Frøystad

Friday 8 June

  • Session five
    • Atreyee Sen: Religious offences, Hindu nationalist rhetoric and the politics of ‘Love Jihad’ in a Mumbai chawl
    • Virginius Xaxa: Religious offence and its containment among the indigenous groups in India
    • Discussants: Devleena Ghosh, Amélie Blom
  • Session six
    • Asad Ali Ahmed: Contesting and containing acusatory practices in contemporary Pakistan
    • Ute Hüsken: Ritual remedies
    • Discussants: Mukesh Kumar, Kathinka Frøystad
  • Session seven (Chair: Claus Peter Zoller)
    • Paul Rollier: Containing religious offence: Common themes and omissions
    • Closing remarks and future plans
  • CosmAlt project meeting (members and administrators)

Writers' retreat 2019

The final event of the CosmAlt project was a writers' retreat in Delhi 25-29 March 2019.

Rather than organizing a conventional closing conference, the project members joined hands for a week to push joint writing projects forward and enhance research communication. 

Venue: Nordic Centre in India, B-2, GF, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi 110 013.


Monday 25 March: Individual texts

  • Individual work
  • Feedback to pre-circulated drafts
    • Alimpana Goswami: Old and new rituals of interreligious unity
    • Arnav Das Sharma: Seer Govardhanpur
    • Vera Lazzaretti: Living with(in) boundaries
    • Kathinka Frøystad: Inclusivism and its contingencies

Tuesday 26 March: Communicating research

  • Formats and technical possibilities vs realism/dilemmas
  • Rest of the day: Continued with drafts and experiments

Wednesday 27 March: Communicating research, cont.

  • Finalising recordings + individual work

Thursday 28 March: Joint publications

  • Moving ahead + individual work

Friday 29 March: Joint publications

  • Moving ahead + individual work

Selected publications

Below is an overview of some of the publications the CosmAlt Project has generated.


Published and forthcoming

  • Kathinka Frøystad and Vera Lazzaretti: «Introduction: Containing offence beyond the courts», South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies vol. 44, no. 3, pp- 498-509.
  • Vera Lazzaretti: «Religious Offence Policed: Paradoxical Outcomes of Containment at the Centre of Banaras, and the ‘Know-How’ of Local Muslims», South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies vol. 44, no. 3, p. 584-599.
  • Kathinka Frøystad: «Swallowing Hurt: Conversion, Broken Deity Tiles and Reluctant Forgiveness in Kanpur», South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 568-583.
  • Radhika Chopra: «Amritsar’s Heritage Street: Mapping Heritage, Eclipsing Offence»,  South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 554-567.
  • Mukesh Kumar: «Competition and contestation at a Hindu-Muslim shrine: The case of the Sant Laldas in Mewat, north India», in David W. Kim (ed.): Sacred Sites, Sacred Stories Across Cultures: Transmission of Oral Tradition, Myth, and Religiosity. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 227-262.
  • Kathinka Frøystad: «Inclusivism and its contingencies in Kanpur: following temple-goers in Kanpur», in István Keul (ed): Spaces of Religion in Urban South Asia. London: Routdlege, pp. 24-38.
  • Vera Lazaretti: «The Boundary Within: Demolitions, dream projects and the negotiation of Hinduness in Banaras», in István Keul (ed): Spaces of Religion in Urban South Asia. London: Routledge, pp. 87-99.


  • Mukesh Kumar: «Neither here nor there: The betwixt and between religious imaginary of Laldas», in Knut A. Jacobsen (ed): Routledge Handbook of South Asian Religions. London: Roudledge, pp. 239-249.
  • Chopra, Radhika (ed) 2020: Ways of Worship. New Delhi: Penguin Random House,  with contributions from the entire project group.
  • Lazzaretti, Vera: «The burden of security: Moral frictions and everyday policing in a contested religious compound», Journal of Extreme Anthropology 4(1): 74-93.
  • Kathinka Frøystad: «Failing the third toilet test: Reflections on fieldwork, gender and Indian loos», Ethnography 21(2): 261-279.


  • Kathinka Frøystad 2019: «Affective digital images: Shiva in the Ka’aba and the smartphone revolution», in Paul Rollier, Kathinka Frøystad and Arild Engelsen Ruud (eds): Outrage: The Rise of Religious Offence in Contemporary South Asia. London: UCL Press.
  • Kathinka Frøystad (co-written with Paul Rollier and Arild Engelsen Ruud) 2019: «Introduction: Researching the rise of religious offence in India», in Paul Rollier, Kathinka Frøystad and Arild Engelsen Ruud (eds): Outrage: The Rise of Religious Offence in Contemporary South Asia. London: UCL Press.
  • Mukesh Kumar 2019: "Cow veneration among Meo Muslims of Mewat presents the complex nature of religious identtiies", Economic and Political Weekly 54(1).
  • Mukesh Kumar 2019: «The Art of Resistance: The Bards and Minstrels’ Response to Anti-Syncretism/Anti-liminality in north India». Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, 29 (2), pp- 219-247. 
  • Kathinka Frøystad 2019: «Hinduism and New Age: Seeking neoliberal solace and exclusivec oneness», in Torkel Brekke (ed.): Modern Hinduism, p. 141-161. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Virginius Xaxa 2019: "Labour and labour market in North-East India: A historical Exposition", in Virginius Xaxa, Debdulal Saha and Rajdeep Sinha (eds): Employment and Labour Market in North-East India: Interrogating Structural Changes. Oxon: Routledge, p. 19-38. 
  • Kathinka Frøystad 2019: «Ritual inclusivity in turbulent times», i Alf Gunvald Nilsen, Kenneth Bo Nielsen og Anand Veidyha (red.): Indian Democracy: Origins, Trajectories, Contestations. London: Pluto Press (US distribution:  Chicago University Press). 


  • Devleena Ghosh and Heather Goodall 2018: "Reimagining Asia: Indian and Australian women crossing borders", Modern Asian Studies 53(4): 1183-1221.
  • Radhika Chopra 2018: «Apana-Paraya: The making of a migrant neighbourhood», in Yogesh Snehi and Lallan S. Baghel (eds): Modernity and the Changing Social Fabric of Punjab and Haryana. New Delhi: Primus Books, p. 299-323.
  • Virginius Xaxa 2018: "Coercive 'development'", Economic and Political Weekly 53(45): 10-11.
  • Devleena Ghosh: «Risky fieldwork: The problems of ethics in the field», Energy Research and Social Science, 45 (Nov), pp. 348-354.
  • Mukesh Kumar 2018: "The Saints Belong to Everyone": Liminality, Belief and Practices in Rural North India. PhD Dissertation, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology Sydney.
  • Virginius Xaxa 2018: "Tribes in the democratic politics of India", E-journal of the Indian Sociological Society 2(2):3-21.
  • Radhika Chopra 2018: Amritsar 1984: A City Remembers. London: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Devleena Ghosh with Heather Goodall 2018: «’Not as a stranger or a tourist': Leonora Gmeiner and the first girls' school in Delhi», in Bandyopadhyay, S. & Buckingham, J. (eds), Indians and the Antipodes: Networks, Boundaries and Circulation, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
  • Radhika Chopra 2018: «Maps of Experience: Narratives of Migration in an Indian Village», in Surinder S. Jodhka (ed): A Handbook of Rural India. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, pp. 360-376.


  • Radhika Chopra:  «Seeing off the dead: Post-mortem photographs in the Darbar Sahib», Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture, Theory, 12(2-3): 207-222.
  • Bharti Sharma 2017: Diversity in Unity: Making Interfaith Marriages Work. MA thesis in South Asian Studies, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo (85 pages).
  • Konrad Markus Moss 2017: The Creation and Maintenance of a Divided City: The Case of Pondicherry. MA thesis in South Asian Studies, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo (81 pages).
  • Virginius Xaxa 2017. «The Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2017», Economic and Political Weekly, 52(40)
  • Radhika Chopra 2017: «A Museum, a memorial and a martyr: Politics of memory in the Sikh Golden Temple», in Uwe Skoda and Birgit Lettmann (eds): India and its Visual Cultures: Community, Class and Gender in a Symbolic Landscape. New Delhi: Sage, pp. 255-277.  


  • Chopra, Radhika 2016: «Commemorating Hurt: Memorializing Operation Bluestar», in Ramdev, Rina & al (eds): Sentiment, Politics, Censorship: The State of Hurt. Sage: New Delhi, pp. 86-109.
  • Ghosh, Devleena 2016: «Burma–Bengal Crossings: Intercolonial Connections in Pre-Independence India», Asian Studies Review, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 156-172. Awarded prize as the best article in Asian Studies Review for 2016 (link).
  • Frøystad, Kathinka 2016. «A fine balance: censoring for respect and social harmony», in Geir Heierstad & Arild Engelsen Ruud (ed.): India's Democracies. Diversity, Co-optation, Resistance.  Universitetsforlaget, pp. 183–222.
  • Frøystad, Kathinka 2016. «Alter-politics reconsidered: From different worlds to osmotic worlding», in Bjørn Enge Bertelsen & Synnøve Kristine Nepstad Bendixsen (ed.):  Critical Anthropological Engagements in Human Alterity and Difference.  Palgrave Macmillan.  pp. 229–252.
  • Virginius Xaxa 2016: «Tribes and Indian National Identity: Location of Exclusion and Marginality», The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 23(1): 223-237.


  • Radhika Chopra 2015: «Ziddi Mundeh: Political Asylum, Transnational Movement and the Migrations of Men», in S. Irudaya Rajan, V J Varghese and Aswini Kumar Nanda (eds): Migrations, Mobility and Multiple Affiliations: Punjabis in a Transnational World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 133-155.
  • Ghosh, Devleena 2015: «Arundhati Roy versus the State of India: The Politics of Celebrity Philantropy», in Elaine Jeffreys and Paul Allatson (eds): Celebrity Philanthropy, Bristol: Intellect, pp. 151-169.
Tags: India, Religion and politics, Ritualer, freedom of speech, Cosmopolitanism
Published June 7, 2022 8:11 AM - Last modified June 7, 2022 8:11 AM


Kathinka Frøystad
Project leader


  • Vera Lazzaretti
  • Radhika Chopra
  • Virginius Xaxa
  • Devleena Ghosh
  • Mukesh Kumar
  • Alimpana Goswami
  • Arnav Das Sharma
  • Konrad Markus Moss
  • Bharti Sharma
Detailed list of participants