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ABSTRACT

This article presents material from my ethnographic study in Śringēri, south India, the site of a powerful 1200-year-old Advaitic monastery that has been historically an interpreter of ancient Hindu moral treatises. A vibrant diverse local culture that provides plural sources of moral authority makes Śringēri a rich site for studying moral discourse. Through a study of two conversational narratives, this essay illustrates how the moral self is not an ossified product of written texts and codes, but is dynamic, gendered, and emergent, endowed with historical and political agency and an aesthetic capacity that mediates many normative sources to articulate “appropriate” conduct. In so doing, the essay shows the value of including oral narrative in ethical inquiry, especially in narrative ethics, which, for most part, has focused on written sources.