Finn posted this in another thread, but I moved it here, to allow more focused discussion. Jagat.
Since my work on ISKCON was brought up in this forum, let me inform you about myself and my work.
During spring 1986 I finished my a-level at a night school and started out on a strange journey through the academic world, ending up as a Ph. D. in sociology of religion. During my time as a student I did what I was supposed to do: studied a Non-European language (sanskrit) for a couple of years, passed my exams etc. But although I had started out as a student of history of religion, I gave it up and switched over to sociology of religion, a study which in Copenhagen has its own little section situated at dept. of History of Religions. I had various reasons - professional as well as heartmatters for this change, but basically I was plainly disgusted with the tools and methods that were used to study religion at that particular department.
Right before I began working on my master thesis I did not have much knowledge of Indian religions. I had for instance retranslated parts of the manava-samhita or Manu’s book of laws, based on Kulluka Bhatta’s edition. But what sort of influence ideas like those of Manu’s could have on daily life in India I was not aware of and I could not imagine.
As regards my choice of subject for my master thesis I had decided to look into the Hindu caste system, and try to find out whether there were any possibilities for social mobility in Indian society specifically whether it would be possible to get through from one caste to another. I had read an article manuscript by Joseph O’Connell on Bengali Vaisnavas, and there appeared to be something that looked like what I was looking for. Although it was 1993 I was not aware of ISKCON and the teachings there, and went to Indian for the first time in my life with a handfull of addresses from O’Connell and various other sources. I was completely open as to what group I should research, and I never really considered ISKCON an option. During my first couple of weeks in Calcutta, my very effective supervisor, the late professor anthropologist Asok Kumar Ghosh from Science College in Calcutta, put me in contact with a number of Bengali Vaisnava groups, and during my initial contacts several of them simply did not understand what I was trying to study. And to be frank I was losing belief in my ideas too.
However by some fortunate chance I got contact with the leader of the Sri Chaitanya Research Institute at Kalighat metrostation. He is a retired professor of geography whose father as a mature man had retired from this world and taken samnyasa. He immediately saw the perspectives in my vague ideas, and helped me out to work in the mathas, eating, interviewing and practically staying in the mathas for 4 months. I visited five different mathgroups (six if you include ISKCON) originating from Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Thakura. All of them in Calcutta and Mayapur and all of them today members of World Vaisnava Association. This means that I knew Gaudiya Matha before I got to know ISKCON which later turned out to be of great importance for my focus. Although caste was my subject, my thesis is not strict to the point regarding caste. I was distracted all the time because there were so many things to learn in the mathas. So the thesis became more of a description of the daily life of the mahantas in the matha.
Thesis finished I started out on a Ph. D. project on ISKCON. This was a natural followup subject after my little Gaudiya Matha study. And I looked forward to embark on the project in 1996. To do a Ph. D. here in Copenhagen technically you have to have a formal supervisor. My initial supervisor was supervisor - formally as well as in fact. Unfortunaltely she passed away spring 1996. That turned out to be a true setback, because my new supervisors quickly turned out not be interested in my subject at all, and they never really supported me. They were virtual supervisors, but after all signing formal papers.
How could I advance under these circumstances? Well - the lack of academic support was compensated for by the support I had from various ISKCON devotees. In 1996 Harikesa was practically the president of ISKCON in his own zone anyway (but please remember that he was chariman of both the GBC and BBT). Before he joined ISKCON he had done some studies on social science and he actually favoured my work. On the personal level he was very open to me, not that I met him very often, but still I mean very open. Things got a bit tighter when I started asking questions on BBT activities :-)
I ended up studying social development in ISKCON. That is to say the influence of economic factors (sankritana), the relationship between the two sexes, and social organisation around varna and asrama.
Although a few of Harikesas assistants took precautions to avoid me, I managed to do more than 130 interviews with devotees ISKCON and non-ISKCON. Besides Harikesa my sources amongst the more ‘senior’, ‘famous’ or plainly publicly outspoken ones were Ravindra Svarupa Dasa, Ekanatha Dasa, Tripurari Maharaja, Krpamoya Dasa, Rasamandala Dasa, Shaunika Rsi Dasa. But of the same importance are interviews with more than one hundred different ISKCON devotees from many countries that I interviewed during a period of five years about everydaylife within or outside of ISKCON-centres.
If anyone is interested I could relatively easy make English summaries of the six chapters.
Any comments? Questions?
Yours sincerely Finn Madsen