Scholarship across disciplines defines darshan as “seeing and being seen” by a deity, most often in Hindu temples. Through ethnographic research of everyday, individual performances of darshan by Gaudiya Vaishnava devotees across the southeastern United States, this dissertation expands this characterization of darshan to explore the practice in its lived expressions within a specific theological context. This dissertation reframes the conversation about everyday practices of darshan across Hindu traditions and proposes that scholars look at context, embodiment, relationships, and performances of what devotees refer to as darshan to understand the role and meaning of this practice in the daily lives of devotees. With this reframing, this dissertation moves away from generalized, static definitions of darshan associated with sight and proposes instead that the practice may be multisensorial and is one of possibilities for relationships created and performed by a devotee. To be meaningful, darshan — a ubiquitous practice across Hindu traditions — must be considered as a theologically and embodied, context-specific practice. When contextualized in the case studies of this dissertation, I show that darshan becomes a part of hearing and speaking the names of the divine, that it is critical to creating specific relationships of intimacy and enjoyment between devotee and deity, and that both are done within theological structures unique to the context of this community. Through this contextualization, I argue that we can abstract thematic elements of darshan, representing an analytical category of practices that are intersensorial, are located at the intersection of relationship and aesthetics, and are learned within distinct theological structures of practice and performance.
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