Shakti's New Voice is the first comprehensive study of Anandmurti Gurumaa, a widely popular contemporary female guru from north India known for offering spiritual teachings and music on satellite television and the Internet. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork and religious-historical research--as well as unexpected and unprecedented outsider contact with the guru--Angela Rudert offers an intimate portrait of "Gurumaa" that will be of interest to the guru's admirers as well as to scholars. To examine Gurumaa's innovation, Rudert turns to examples drawn from fieldwork research in the guru's ashram and from other locations in India and in the United States. These examples specifically discuss Gurumaa's religious pluralism, her gender activism, and her embrace of new media, in order to illuminate elements of continuity and change within the time-honored South Asian tradition of guru-bhakti, devotion to the guru. Raised in a Sikh family, educated in a Catholic convent school and understood to have attained her enlightenment in Vrindavan, the famous Hindu pilgrimage site of Lord Krishna's divine play, Gurumaa refuses identification with any particular religious tradition, or "ism," yet her teachings draw from many. She speaks strongly, often harshly, about contemporary issues of gender inequality, while calling for women's empowerment, and she has established a non-governmental organization called Shakti to promote girls' education in India. In the case of Anandmurti Gurumaa and those spiritual seekers in her fold, innovations and re-interpretations of tradition come from within the pluralistic setting of Indian religiosity, while they exist and act within a global religious milieu.
Angela Rudert is lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Ithaca College.