Deliège, Robert 1953–

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Deliège, Robert 1953–

PERSONAL: Born June 10, 1953, in Verviers, Belgium; married Vandevelde Lutgart; children: Sumitra, Rahul, Marie, Catherine. Education: Attended University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, 1972–77, and Oxford University, 1977–80.

ADDRESSES: Office—Collège Erasme, Institut Orientaliste, Place B. Pascal, 1, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Anthropologist, educator, and writer. Institut Orientaliste, College Erasme, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, professor.


The Bhils of Western India: Some Empirical and Theoretical Issues in Anthropology in India, National (New Delhi, India), 1985.

Les Paraiyars du Tamil Nadu, Steyler Verlag—Wort und Werk (Nettetal, Germany), 1988, translated by David Phillips as The World of the "Untouchables": Paraiyars of Tamil Nadu, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Anthropologie sociale et culturelle (textbook), De Boeck-Université (Brussels, Belgium), 1992.

Les intouchables en Inde: des castes d'exclus, Imago (Paris, France), 1995, translated by Nora Scott as The Untouchables of India, Berg Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Anthropologie de la parenté, A. Colin/Masson (Paris, France), 1996.

Gandhi, PUF (Paris, France), 1999.

Introduction à l'anthropologie structurale, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 2001, translated by Nora Scott as Lévi-Strauss Today: An Introduction to Structural Anthropology, Berg Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Les castes en Inde aujourd'hui (title means "Today's Castes in India"), Presses Universitaires de France (Paris, France), 2004.

La religion des intouchables de l'Inde (title means "The Religion of the Untouchables of India"), Presses Universitaires du Septentrion (Villeneuve d'Ascq, France), 2004.

Contributor to Intégration, lien social et citoyenneté, edited by Gilles Ferréol, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 1998.

SIDELIGHTS: Robert Deliège is a Belgian scholar who has written extensively on the Untouchable caste of India. His book Les intouchables en Inde: des castes d'exclus gives an overview of the history of this most discriminated-against class of people, a group both reviled by other Hindus as impure and exploited by higher classes due to their willingness to perform jobs no one else wants that are nonetheless indispensable to the function of the Indian economy. The author discusses the views of higher castes on untouchability, as well as the views of the Untouchables themselves. Also covered are recent changes in attitudes toward Untouchables as a result of government-led affirmative-action programs and of socio-religious movements led by the Untouchables themselves. "This excellent book," D.A. Chekki concluded in a Choice review, "is highly recommended for those interested in South Asian studies, social stratification, and inequality."

In Les Paraiyars du Tamil Nadu—translated as The World of the "Untouchables": Paraiyars of Tamil Nadu—Deliège provides an in-depth look at a group of Untouchables, both Hindu and Catholic, living in an isolated village in the south of India. Based on observations made during a two-year stay in this remote region, the author describes the village itself and the daily details of living there. He then discusses the power structure operating within the village. One chapter is devoted to how the Paraiyar make their living, usually as brick makers or occasional laborers. The next chapter relates how this caste of Untouchables is organized and its relations with both higher and lower castes, as well as with other castes of Untouchables. Another chapter covers family relations and marriage; and, in the last chapter, Deliège focuses on what reviewers felt to be the most interesting aspect of the Paraiyar: their religious beliefs and customs. "I particularly enjoyed the chapter on religion," remarked Anthony Good in MAN, "which explores the surprisingly slight and subtle differences between Catholics and Hindus." Both Good and Stephen Fuchs, who reviewed the book for Asian Folklore Studies, noted that, although Christianity forbids the kind of discrimination Hindus practice, many Tamil Christians still practice untouchability and believe in karma and reincarnation—ideas borrowed from Hinduism—to justify continuing the practice. For Fuchs, Les Paraiyars du Tamil Nadu is particularly valuable for its portrait of these Indian Christians: "The author is the first anthropologist to study a Christian Harijan [Untouchable] caste community."

Deliège is also the author of the textbook Anthropologie sociale et culturelle. In this book the author casts his net widely, attempting to give an overview of the major developments in social and cultural anthropology, including evolutionism, diffusionism, culturalism, functionalism, and structuralism. There are few textbooks on anthropology available in French, Claude Meillassoux noted in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and thus Deliège's conventional presentation of his subject, and the candid way he presents viewpoints in opposition to his own, which allows readers to make their own judgments, is exemplary, according to this reviewer. "It would be difficult to ask more of a work covering such a vast field in such a narrow perspective," Meillassoux concluded.

In his book Les castes en Inde aujourd'hui, the author further explores the caste system in India, examining both social institutions such as marriage and concepts within anthropology used to study caste. Writing in Pacific Affairs, Nicolas Jaoul noted that the author "provides as clear a picture as possible of the multiple developments in the phenomena of caste." Jaoul went on to write: "Rooting himself in the diversity and nuances of local situations, he proposes to study caste as a 'changing institution' … whose 'subtle and adaptable nature' … clearly comes to the fore once it is conceived of as being in constant evolution." The reviewer also noted that the author provides "a critical examination, one that enables the reader to find his or her way through a vast literature."



Deliège, Robert, Les castes en Inde aujourd'hui, Presses Universitaires de France (Paris, France), 2004.


Asian Folklore Studies, April, 1990, Stephen Fuchs, review of Les Paraiyars du Tamil Nadu, p. 174.

Choice, January, 2000, D.A. Chekki, review of The Untouchables of India, p. 975.

Contemporary Sociology, March, 2001, Joseph Gusfield, review of The Untouchables of India, pp. 119-120.

Ethnic and Racial Studies, September, 1999, Mary Searle-Chatterjee, review of The World of the "Untouchables": Paraiyars of Tamil Nadu, p. 938.

Indian Economic and Social History Review, July-September, 2000, Vijay Prashad, review of The Untouchables of India, p. 366.

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March, 1995, Claude Meillassoux, review of Anthropologie sociale et culturelle, p. 183.

MAN, March, 1990, Anthony Good, review of Les Paraiyars du Tamil Nadu, p. 162.

Pacific Affairs, spring, 2005, Nicolas Jaoul, review of Les castes en Inde aujourd'hui, p. 153.