Beginning in July 2019, UC Riverside’s Ajay Verghese will spend three months conducting research in India as the recipient of a Senior Short-Term Fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies. Verghese, an assistant professor in UCR’s Department of Political Science, is studying religiosity in India, particularly among practitioners of the country’s dominant religion, Hinduism. He seeks to understand whether Hindus in India are becoming secularized as the country industrializes and its people attain greater access to jobs, education, and medical care.
During his time in India next summer, Verghese will build on a project he started there in fall 2017 as a Fulbright Scholar. Over nine months, he surveyed roughly 1,300 people, asking them questions about their religious beliefs and practices, socioeconomic status, and political behavior. He focused his research on two Indian states on opposite ends of the development spectrum: highly developed Kerala, on India’s southwestern coastline, and significantly less developed Bihar, located in North India.
Verghese plans to return to the same two states in 2019 to survey another 700 people, mainly in Kerala, and conduct interviews with Hindu families. Their responses will help him determine whether religious belief and religious practice are in decline or on the upswing in vastly different areas of India, as well as which factors seem to have the strongest impact on religiosity. So far, he said, he’s observed a connection between religiosity and health that appears significantly stronger than ties between religiosity and wealth or education. In short, the healthier people are, the less religious they seem to be.
While some religious beliefs and practices among Hindus have gradually declined over the past three decades, they have nevertheless remained strong in less developed areas of the country, where Verghese noted people are also less likely to have access to professional medical care and facilities such as hospitals. Verghese is the author of the book “The Colonial Origins of Ethnic Violence in India” (2016) and hopes to eventually publish a second title based on his religiosity-related findings.