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: The declining number of religious vocations joining Catholic seminaries in Italy has encouraged some dioceses to hire migrant religious workers to compensate for the lack of clergy available for parish work. Although initially approached as a temporary solution, an unforeseen consequence of this policy has been the emergence of congenial relationships between migrant priests and Italian parishioners, who often describe their bond as deeply spiritual. This article examines the experiences of Sri Lankan priests who work in Italy, highlighting the distinct emphasis that they place on reaching out to the communities that they work with. Through fieldwork conducted in Sri Lanka and Italy, I analyse how South Asian priests use concepts such as devotion and sincerity to explain how their approach to the priesthood makes a ‘solemn’ difference that is celebrated by local parishioners. With an explicit focus on pastoral work, this form of Asian Catholicism emphasises the importance of bodily comportment, ceremonial poise and ritual dignity, capturing the yearnings of Catholic laities avid for devotional celebrations capable of re-connecting them to the spiritually meaningful aspects of their faith. My work draws lines of connection between the historical, theological and pedagogical underpinnings of Sri Lankan Catholicism and the affective responses that South Asian priests elicit in Europe.
Abstract: Religion is an important marker of identity for India’s Anglo-Indians. It distinguishes them within the principally non-Christian context and is integral to socializing youth to their distinct Anglo-Indian culture and heritage. This can be observed in Anglo-Indian practice—attending Christian schools, church-going, celebrating religious festivals, making pilgrimages—which forms a significant part of a matrix through which young Anglo-Indians learn how to perform their Anglo-Indianness. Our recent research (2013–2014) looked at the role of religion in the lives of Anglo-Indians intergenerationally and transnationally, through a survey, interviews, and participant observation. The results suggest that the performed religiosity of Anglo-Indian youth in India yields certain benefits for this group. It constitutes a capital which has the potential to make an enormous difference to their lives—socially, culturally, and otherwise. For example, Christian practice provides them with access to élite Christian educational institutions and the career possibilities that follow from such education. This article describes our research, focusing upon the findings related to Anglo-Indian youth in India. In particular, it argues that in various ways, the practice of Christianity both acts and is recognized by young Anglo-Indians as a source of capital in their lives, which is not to say that religion is practised for the purpose of acquiring capital. Rather, religious practice is a part of being Anglo-Indian that in India accrues capital.
Publisher’s Description: To Be Cared For offers a unique view into the conceptual and moral world of slum-bound Dalits (“untouchables”) in the South Indian city of Chennai. Focusing on the decision by many women to embrace locally specific forms of Pentecostal Christianity, Nathaniel Roberts challenges dominant anthropological understandings of religion as a matter of culture and identity, as well as Indian nationalist narratives of Christianity as a “foreign” ideology that disrupts local communities. Far from being a divisive force, conversion integrates the slum community—Christians and Hindus alike—by addressing hidden moral fault lines that subtly pit residents against one another in a national context that renders Dalits outsiders in their own land.
Abstract: If much has been written of the forms of bodiliness reinforced by hospitals, less attention has been paid to the medicalization of the soul. The medical management of death institutionalizes divisions between body and soul, and matter and spirit, infusing end-of-life care with latent Christian theological presumptions. The invisibility of these presumptions is partly sustained by projecting religiosity on those who endorse other cosmologies, while retaining for medicine a mask of secular science. Stories of conflict with non-Christian patients force these presumptions into visibility, suggesting alternative ethics of care and mourning rooted in other understandings. In this article, I explore one such story. Considering the story as an allegory for how matter and spirit figure in contemporary postmortem disciplines, I suggest that it exposes both the operation of a taboo against mixing material and spiritual agendas, and an assumption that appropriate mourning is oriented toward symbolic homage, rather than concern for the material welfare of the dead.
Publisher’s Description: Every year, there are several hundred attacks on India’s Christians. These attacks are carried out by violent anti-minority activists, many of them provoked by what they perceive to be Christians’ propensity for aggressive proselytization, and/or by rumored or real conversions to the faith. In this violence, Pentecostal Christians are disproportionately targeted.
Bauman finds that the violence against Pentecostals and Pentecostalized Evangelicals in India is not just a matter of current social, cultural, political, and interreligious dynamics internal to India, but is rather related to identifiable historical trends, as well as to historical and contemporary transnational flows of people, power, and ideas.
Based on extensive interviews and ethnographic work, and drawing upon the vast scholarly literature on interreligious violence, Hindu nationalism, and Christianity in India, this volume accounts for this disproportionate targeting through a detailed analysis of Indian Christian history, contemporary Indian politics, Indian social and cultural characteristics, and Pentecostal belief and practice.
While some of the factors in the targeting of Pentecostals are obvious and expected (e.g., their relatively greater evangelical assertiveness), other significant factors are less acknowledged and more surprising, among them the marginalization of Pentecostals by “mainstream” Christians, the social location of Pentecostal Christians, and transnational flows of missionary personnel, theories, and funds.
Abstract: The Mizos of northeast India have their own unique culture and society with indigenous religious beliefs that were closely linked with their everyday needs and their world-views. For the Mizos the world was inhabited by spirits, some benevolent and some evil. The evil spirits were believed to cause all kinds of illnesses and misfortunes, and in order to recover from such illnesses the evil spirits had to be placated by sacrifices known as inthawina which can be understood as ‘ceremonial cures’. The Mizos lived in fear, always afraid of evil spirits, and their religious energies were centred on propitiating these evil spirits through frequent sacrifices. The Puithiams (priests) would officiate at such events. Christianity brought inevitable change in the Mizos’ religious and world-views. Nevertheless, many of the existing pre-Christian beliefs of Mizo society were adopted or modified by missionaries to help the Mizos to understand more fully Christian concepts and beliefs, especially with reference to the concepts of health and healing. It can also be argued that pre-Christian social, religious and cultural beliefs carried in them ‘theologies of life’ which were adopted by missionaries or those spreading the gospel message, thus allowing these practices, as well as Christian doctrines themselves, to be seen in a new light.
Abstract: The author argues in this paper that the ‘state effects’ generated by religious movements – even those operating at the margins of societies – require us to consider anew the impact of religious movements on state formation. In Sri Lanka, for instance, evangelicals are a minority. Yet their practice of proselytizing to new audiences was considered ‘unethical,’ generating opposition that was directed not only at them, but also at ruling elites for failing to stem what was seen as an intrusion of incompatible ‘Western’ ideals. Instead of considering how such Christian movements seek to ‘take over’ the functions of the ‘state’ as has been the experience in the United States and parts of Latin America, the author illustrates in this article why it makes more theoretical sense to ask how their activities impinge upon the conceptual frameworks through which the ‘state’ is imagined.
Woods, Orlando. 2013. Converting houses into churches: the mobility, fission, and sacred networks of evangelical house churches in Sri Lanka. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (advance online publication).
Abstract: In this paper I examine the processes and politics associated with the formation of evangelical house churches in Sri Lanka. In doing so, I show how the sacred space of the house church is constructed through the development of sacred networks, which emerge when a group of Christians assemble for prayer and worship. Sacred networks grant the house church an important degree of mobility, but they also encourage church fission. Whilst the house church enables evangelical groups to grow in hostile environments like that of Sri Lanka, it is often a superficial form of growth that is unsustainable in the long term. To conclude, I suggest that an understanding of sacred networks can help inject a sense of scalar dynamism into the study of contemporary religious movements.
Mahadev, Neena. 2014. Conversion and Anti-conversion in Contemporary Sri Lanka: Pentecostal Christian Evangelism and Theravada Buddhist Views on the Ethics of Religious Attraction. In Proselytizing and the Limits of Religious Pluralism in Contemporary Asia (ARI Springer Asian Series, vol. 4), pp. 211-235.
Abstract: Over the last decade Buddhist nationalist activists have pursued various measures to curb proselytism by Christians who strive to “unethically convert” Sri Lankans born as Buddhists. Sri Lankan Buddhist nationalist discourses reveal suspicions that the act of becoming enculturated into Christianity is detrimental to the person and to the nation in a number of ways. What can such nationalist discourses about “unethical conversions,” and about the instruments used to engender religious attraction, tell us about the politics of perception that inflame antipathies over proselytism, conversion, and apostasy? Analysis of ethnographic material reveals that Buddhist protectionists tend to regard two forms of Christian “gift” to be operative in securing conversions. First, gifts of Christian charity are perceived to be material “allurements” that serve to induce conversions and religious patronage among vulnerable Sri Lankans. Comparatively examining Christian and Buddhist forms of giving (charity and dāna respectively), which engender radically different types of ethical sensibilities about the use of gifts and care as modalities of conversion and religious attraction, helps to illuminate why charity is a significant point of contention between these religious communities. Secondly, Pentecostal Christian charisma—or the notion that God’s Grace is a gift which can be evidenced through miracles of healing—appears to Buddhist skeptics as dubious and harmful means of manipulating Sri Lankans into committing apostasy. Using ethnography to depict how adherents and detractors alike have made spectacles out of charismatic Christian promises of miracles, this essay describes how recent controversies have played out between Buddhist nationalists and Christian evangelists within the Sri Lankan public sphere. Focusing on charity and charismatic miracles as modalities of conversion, this paper illuminates key aspects of the anxieties over new Christian forms of religious propagation, proselytism, and devotion as they have entered into a milieu marked by ethno-religious nationalism, religious protectionism, as well as established ethical sensibilities and religious conventions.