Psychology has a poor record in addressing cultural phenomena. One response is to turn to ancient concepts from local traditions and to use these as alternative analytic categories to explain behavior. However, there are problems with such an approach. These concepts will be read from the vantage point of the present and interpreted differently so as to propose different diagnoses (and solutions) for contemporary social problems. As an alternative, rather than using ancient resources as analytic categories in the explanation of behavior, we could instead examine how they are used as categories of practice as people actively make sense of their social context and themselves. Attending to such contemporary ‘lay’ usage (and the contestation it entails) allows for a more dynamic conception of cultural processes than is typical in psychology. More generally, I believe that it is possible to use our psychological constructs so that we can see the distinctive particularities of the phenomena before us in new and interesting ways, and in ways that respect their cultural specificity. This claim is illustrated through reference to recent work using the concept of social identity to illuminate aspects of Hindu pilgrimage.