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From the early nineteenth century, British scholar-officers readily compared Mirabai to European mystics as a way to come to terms with this intriguing and admired sixteenth-century woman as they attempted to order the dense weave of Indian culture and religion through the production of knowledge. And in the twentieth century she would increasingly be cited in comparative works on women’s voices, resistance, and religious lives and on global ethics and spirituality. This chapter will explore the place she comes to occupy, beginning by tracing the ways that Hindu bhakti or “devotion” maps (or does not map) onto European Christian and subsequent scholarly conceptions of mysticism and the challenges of comparison without clear textual traditions of either her story or voice and the resulting lack of access to this individual woman’s thoughts and actions. The context in which this extraordinary woman must have lived includes both emerging institutionalized religious institutions that adopted the feminine persona as the ideal devotee and political configurations with attendant notions of honor, feudal domination, and masculinity that include the exchange of women to cement political alliances. As an actual embodied woman of her time speaking of her own desires with her own direct relationship with God and breaking rank with feudal, familial, and religious authorities, she challenges it all, and songs in her voice and narratives of her life multiply rapidly, offering alternate views of social relations and of gender and gathering force across the centuries as others take up her story and songs. With particular attention to the works of feminist philosopher of religion Pamela Sue Anderson and comparative theologian Holly Hillgardner, this paper will examine how comparisons might legitimately be made between European women mystics and this Hindu woman “saint,” about whose individual subjectivity so little can be verified and yet who remains very much alive in an intersubjective participatory realm of oral performance, identity formation and individual, social and spiritual transformation.



Publication Date





New York, NY


Mirabai, Hinduism, saint, comparative religion


Christianity | Comparative Methodologies and Theories | Hindu Studies | History of Religions of Eastern Origins | Other Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies | Women's Studies


In Alexandra Verini and Abir Bazaz (Eds.), Gender and Medieval Mysticism from India to Europe.



Invoking Mirabai: Elision and Illumination in the Global Study of Women Mystics