Angela Rudert began researching the ways in which women negotiate their own forms of power in Swaminarayan Hinduism while she was a student at Cornell University. She conducted research in Atlanta, GA where the Swaminarayan community has grown tremendously in recent decades and the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (BAPS) has become the southeast region’s leading temple.
In Swaminarayan temples, men and women practice strict gender segregation and conduct their own separate and parallel programs in temple life. The saints and the Guru of the tradition are male only, and practice a strict form of celibacy that does not allow them to touch, speak to, or look at women. Therefore, women do not have the same access to religious specialists as do men. Regardless, women are often characterized as more religious than men, inherently faithful, and better devotees. Angela’s research looked at the ways women can and do assert power in the Swaminarayan tradition through their own initiatives and from their own spaces.