Conflicts over conversion often involve divergent logics about religious publicity and persuasion. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, Sri Lankan Buddhists began expressing renewed hostility toward Christians, who are seen as “unethically” converting Sri Lankans away from their native religions. They see the material accoutrements of Christian grace as estranging Buddhists from righteous, karmic inheritances. Distinctive economies of religious persuasion are perceived to engender differences in the essential character of persons. Buddhist nationalists tend to take evangelical Christian economic and religio-moral inclinations (prosperity gospels, charitability, and expansionism) as malignant attributes of Christian personhood (greed, zeal, misguided forgiveness, fraudulent economic manipulation). Anti-conversion discourses paint conversion to Christianity as an insidious socialization process that threatens Buddhism and generates fraudulence and anti-nationalism. These anxieties over religious difference crystallized in allegations that a Sinhala convert to Christianity—a businessman and philanthropist—was culpable for the death of a prominent Buddhist monk. The iconic conversion of the alleged culprit, seen alongside prior conversion trends, makes evident a periodized history of “pragmatic” conversions (a) from Buddhism to Christianity (colonial era), (b) from Christianity back to Buddhism (decolonization), and (c) from Buddhism to charismatic Christianity (during “nationalization” of the economy amid global neoliberalization). Religio-economic affinities are split along partisan lines in Sri Lanka, thereby intensifying the conflictual interplay between evangelical conviction and nativist skepticism.
Abstract: This article describes the rituals and beliefs of an upper-class Catholic women’s prayer group in a small city in southeast Brazil. My interest centers on why there is so little friction within the group when it would seem to have several potentially significant internal and external tensions. There are stark doctrinal differences between members: some have very liberal and even syncretic beliefs while others express very conservative, exclusive Catholic beliefs. At the same time, the group—despite certain unorthodox beliefs and practices—maintains close relations with representatives of the local Catholic Church and prays jointly on occasion with an evangelical group. I suggest that four aspects of the group allow it to manage ambiguity in ways that prevent tensions: relations between charisma and doctrine, levitas, flexible framing, and sociodoxy. These concepts emerge from the study’s grounded theoretical approach.
Excerpt: My analysis of this contentious Baptist project in the Central Valley of Oaxaca reveals the intersection of missionary and revolutionary agendas with contrasting conceptualisations of gender, ethnic and regional identities. Although members of the Unión Femenil felt a Christian obligation to support indigenous converts, they saw Zapotec culture as a frustrating obstacle in attaining a dual (and at times competing) Mexican/Christian identity. Local conflicts in the Central Valley community of San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya led to alternate martyrdom narratives that speak to the larger religious conflicts in indigenous Mexico but prioritise Protestant, not the dominant Catholic, histories of martyrdom. By examining an oral history of martyrdom, I trace a community’s construction as well as its contestation of collective memory. Primarily a local history of one Baptist congregation, this article details these events and experiences as representative of a larger pattern of religious conflict in Oaxaca. However, what makes this study of Tlacochahuaya particularly important is that it provides an intimate look at the interworking of a new belief system in a centuries-old village that the predominantly mestizo Baptist men and women did not understand in the post-revolutionary period.