How a new religion is danced into existence – the case of Kirat religion in Nepal

Wettstein, Marion (2018). How a new religion is danced into existence – the case of Kirat religion in Nepal (Unpublished). In: 16th Annual Conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR) Multiple Religious Identities – Individuals, Communities, Traditions. University of Bern. 17.06.2018 - 21.06.2018.

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Since about three decades a new religion emerged in Nepal: ‘Kirat religion’. This religion grew from within a multitude of local ethnic communities mainly pinning down their belonging to the hill regions of Eastern Nepal. The communities considering themselves being part of, or affiliated to, the Rai, Limbu, Sunuwar and Yakkha are today subsumed under the ethnic umbrella of the Kirat, alluding to an early ruling dynasty in the Kathmandu valley. Following the last Nepal census of 2011, Kirat religion officially features as the fourth largest religion after Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. In contrasts to the latter three and to the currently fast spreading Christian denominations, Kirat religion is not based on scriptures but on oral traditions. The manifold local shamanic traditions of Eastern Nepal it is based on hardly feature any permanent temples, churches or altars, nor have they known an image tradition. Thus, the visual and material manifestation of these traditions is not based on architecture, objects, images or texts, it is mainly based on performative practices. Among them collective circular dances, such as the Rai sakela or the Limbu chyabrung which until recently were only performed at seasonal agricultural village rituals, currently feature most prominently as a public expression of Kirat religion. Based on the ethnographic case of Kirat religion this paper aims to discuss the effectiveness of dance as a practice of visualization and materialization in the context of religious identity transformation. Or in other words, it redraws the process of how a new religion is danced into existence, and asks: What makes dance so appealing as a medium for religious identity processes?

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute for the Science of Religion

UniBE Contributor:

Wettstein, Marion


200 Religion
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




Marion von Stockhausen-Wettstein

Date Deposited:

28 Jun 2018 10:49

Last Modified:

28 Jun 2018 10:49


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