This thesis examines the relationship between spiritual, social and economic capital in a small religious community in Varanasi, India. Varanasi is one of India s holiest cities, and is home to many renouncers (sadhus). These individuals will often have a body of devotees that live in the religious organisation (ashram), which is controlled by the sadhu. My fieldwork was conducted in one such organisation from January to August, 2005, and the main question I have sought to answer is: How, and to what extent, are spiritual transactions between a sadhu and a devotee constrained and determined by social and economic processes within the social organisation these transactions generate and sustain?
I have proceeded from a detailed description of forms of worship, to an exploration of the social organisation in this community. My theoretical framework has been based on transaction analysis and the concepts of spiritual and social capital. Through forms of worship, which I have analysed as spiritual transactions, an individual accumulates spiritual capital. This signifies a change in disposition and position in the social organisation, and this form of capital can in some instances be converted into social or economic capital. The opposite process has also been investigated, and I contend that the benefits an individual receives from the ashram are largely contingent on the volume of various forms of capital acquired, and the success one has in conversions of capital.
The social organisation generated and sustained by these spiritual, social and economic transactions has been analysed as a series of networks fanning out from the sadhu. Although the Indian sadhu has often been seen as being isolated from the rest of the society, as an individual-outside-the-world opposed to the man-in-the-world, my study shows that it is difficult to maintain such a dichotomy. I demonstrate that both the sadhu and his devotees are involved in a complex matrix of relationships, which allow them to exchange various resources, and that the motivation people have for approaching this sadhu can be multifaceted and diverse.