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The (un)changing karma: pollution beliefs, social stratification and reincarnisation in Bhutan

Tashi, Kelzang T. (2021) The (un)changing karma: pollution beliefs, social stratification and reincarnisation in Bhutan. Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 22 (1). pp. 41-57. ISSN 1444-2213

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Identification Number: 10.1080/14442213.2021.1884125


Since the abolition of slavery and serfdom in 1958, Bhutanese society has been characterised by three social strata: big, medium and small people. Purity beliefs and practices are one of the crucial factors in this reconfigured stratification, which is entwined with the hierarchy of the well-ordered pantheon in relation to vulnerability to uncleanness. The big people feel threatened by the wrath of the gods/spirits of the low-level pantheon who are more vulnerable to pollution than their high-level counterparts. Indeed, the purity/impurity beliefs are only relevant because of their roles in offending these beings, thereby revealing two types of defilement: direct and indirect pollution. The effects of pollution beliefs in class-based Buddhist Bhutan are indirect, while they are direct in caste-based Hindu India. The big status is perpetuated by purity beliefs which are, in turn, embedded in ‘reincarnisation’—a process of upward social mobility.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 Informa UK Limited
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Date Deposited: 12 Nov 2021 15:57
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2022 23:00

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