Pushtimarg is a sect within Hinduism (and under Vaishnavism) that my family follows. It has been translated loosely as “A path (marg) of Grace (pushti)”, but I would translate Pushti rather differently. In my childhood, pusht, the root of pushti, was used to describe older men, who were pusht about their principles and values, or rather, upholding strongly of their principles and values. So Pushtimarg, for me, means a path that helps you uphold your principles.
This meaning that I had understood in my childhood brought me to my thesis that equated Pushtimarg and the rise of other similar sects as comparable to the rise of Calvinism (and Protestantism in general) in the late 16th century. While trying to understand the values of sacrifice for the older and the younger generation that my parents exalted, I made a connection between the rise of the Protestant ethic and pushtimarg. This link that I framed into words while having a conversation with Prof. Theodor Hanf, a true Weberian of a kind, got us both very excited. Now, said Prof. Hanf, I needed to do the field work.
I came from a scientific background that only sees quantitative methods as scientific; I had always laughed at the degree of “scientific” knowledge you could get through qualitative methods, like interviews, ethnography, or participant observation. Qualitative methods is a religion of it’s own, Prof. Hanf would have said. After I did “change religions,” shifting from economics to sociology, I had to convince myself that qualitative work could indeed be scientific. As with every religion, my conversion story is full of miracles, including one where I came upon the holy text written by Mario Luis Small (How many cases do I need?) which managed to convince me that ethnography could be scientific; it just needed to be evaluated with different criteria than that involved in quantitative methods (which have, unfortunately, increasingly been seen as being the only scientific way possible to do social sciences).
I asked myself – where exactly do I start studying about Pushtimarg? I read a few papers, mostly written by British social scientists during the time of colonial rule in India. Following the tone of the Empire itself, the paper had a note of “white man’s burden” to it, which left me dejected. So, I decided to turn to my grandmother.
Check out Part II
Part III coming soon…