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Caste, Class, and Urbanization: The Shaping of Religious Community in Contemporary India


Building on the implications of qualitative work from India and urbanism theories, I aim to understand whether religious bonding social capital in contemporary India increases with greater urbanization and whether such increases are moderated by caste or social class position. Results from multinomial logistic regression on 1,417 Hindu respondents in a nationally representative sample of India (World Values Survey-India 2001) indicate that religious bonding is fostered by urbanism and that this association is stronger for upper castes. But there is little evidence that social class similarly moderates the association between urbanism and religious bonding. In light of these findings, religious bonding might be better understood as rooted in the interaction of caste dynamics and changes in the urban environment, rather than as a result of greater affluence. The data are also consistent with work underscoring the importance of disentangling social class and caste among Hindus in contemporary India.

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  1. 1.

    Indian “secularization” is more akin to the pluralistic US market of religious groups than European secularization (Warrier 2003; Warrier 2005: 159). Transnational activity has become increasingly common for Indian religious groups (Levitt 2004).

  2. 2.

    Historically, upper caste land owners (jajman) did not cultivate their own land, but were connected to laborers though the Jajmani system whereby lower castes labored and produced goods and upper castes in turn gave provisions and land.

  3. 3.

    Debates concerning the historical formation of caste are beyond the scope of this paper. See Bayly (1999) for a detailed history of caste in India (see also Cohn 1987; Dirks 1987; Dumont 1980; Milner 1994).

  4. 4.

    I am in no way suggesting that vertical caste domination or economic advantage no longer exists in India; rather this study follows the lead of others that have observed a diminishing linkage between income and caste, indicating that more insight can be gained by disentangling their separate effects (see Mayer 1997).

  5. 5.

    The English word “caste” is used for two different caste levels in the Indian hierarchy. Varna “castes” are the broad ideal groupings, and jati “castes” are the smaller castes within varnas. Jati castes number in the thousands and may be present across regions of the country, or may only exist in certain regions (Singh 2002).

  6. 6.

    In contrast to the United States, India’s old and new affluent classes are referred to both in popular media and scholarly research as the “middle class” or the “upper middle class.” In order to reduce confusion in terminology for international readers, I will refer to this growing wealthy minority as India’s affluent or economically privileged, rather than middle class. For more on India’s affluent classes or middle class see Deshpande (2003) and Fernandes (2006).

  7. 7.

    I also conducted a t-test to see if upper castes have in general a higher mean level of religious bonding than all other casts. They do not (p = 0.207).

  8. 8.

    Fuller (2004: 256) contends that “inequality is deeply entrenched in Hinduism and Indian society, at both ideological and institutional levels, despite the fact that the principle and practice of equality clearly have gained ground in contemporary India, particularly in the political, economic, and legal fields. In the face of this development, however, Hinduism itself tends to represent a predominantly conservative force …”.

  9. 9.

    I thank an anonymous reviewer for this pointing out this limitation.


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The author is grateful to Paul Castronova, Phillip Connor, Paul Froese, Carson Mencken, Charles North, Rodney Stark, Brandon Vaidyanathan, the editor, and anonymous referees for comments on an earlier draft of this article.

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Stroope, S. Caste, Class, and Urbanization: The Shaping of Religious Community in Contemporary India. Soc Indic Res 105, 499–518 (2012).

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  • India
  • Caste
  • Stratification
  • Religion
  • Urbanization
  • Community