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Unformatted text preview: Protest and Conversion ls conversion more about this world than the next? e in the .West have come to thinkol relig- ious conversion as_ a deeplypersgnal experi‘ encephearjng little or no relation to social structures and institu- tions. Stories of how peeple “come to faith” have more to do with "meeting Cod," deliverance from sin, or personal heal- ing than they do with law or politics. Cauri Viswanatlran 5 Outside the Fold Gospels us to consi er re igrouspc‘on- ersion as aLIvoddlLevegt which uncli s as a mode of social protest nd challenges the veg i enhty o a ation. Viswanathan does this by com‘ .. paring and contrasting the "significance ofspmrionaflfiunmmetseruhscenm— ‘ry Englawndjyficlilndia. The themes of this book speak not only to issues of religion and the public sphere here in the United States, but also to the heat- ed debate being waged in India today over Christian evangelism. Reactor be warned: The book rides the currents of post— -structuralisfl'lerary theory, In which the-Iiic'a'riing oI'a gisen "sign” is not inherent, but consists only in its diFference from something else in a system of signs (I: is “not f’). Viswa‘ nathan uses this framework to overturn conventional wisdom about religious 7 conversion Hchmrnterintuitive thesis ,7 I] is that the real meaning ofcomersiou _..,.,__._m.. hasdlttle to do_ with assent to a set of beliefs oLassimilatiominto a given com- _rrrunity,_Conversion's meanipg lies in- stead in the disserlt or protest it voices I... Chandra Mol'lampol'ir' is a PhD. candidate in History (South Asia} at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I‘\ If. 3"Q :20 " l against systems .ofauthoricr,.including the segular _nat_ion. VisIvanatlIan develops her argument by linking two seemingly unrelated developments: legislation in England (cg, the Catholic Emancipation Bill of 1823) that endowed religious minor- ities with national "citizenship," and educational policies in India that Angli. cized Indians in order to incorporate them into the imperial regime. Each of these developments, according to Viswa- nathan, belongs to the single, colonizing pro- icctofsecular nation~ hood. And in each context, religiousegn- version becgmég mode of prolgiragainsLlhe very organs“ of the__ state that purport to secure freedom of conscience and relrgionf‘ L” 'Réifiar‘kably compre- hensive in its SCOpe and multidisciplinary in its method, Outside the Fold draws upon sources rang: ing from law roports, public and iudr'cial pro- ceedi rigs, nineteenthcen- tury novels, diaries, and theological treatises. Bril- liantly, Vinvanalhan harnesses these sources to shed light on the conversions of figures Such as John Henry Newman, the most prominent Anglican convert to Catholicism; Eartgltawmfli. a learned Hindu noman who cgnIerted to Cl’ll‘l} tianity II. R. Ambedlrar, a Dalit(iormer- Iy,‘ untouchable" lcoriIcrt to Buddhism who later helped draft the Indian Consti— tution; and rtnfirrisrfieosantfiirrhose journey CHANDRA S. MALLAMBALLI Outside the Fold: conversion, Modernity, and Ballet by Gaurl Vlsnanalhan fllllcllflll UNIV. ”£55. 19” 332 pp.: $17.35, paper I from English secularism to Theosophy do" Neel-Hinduism continues to mystify students ofreligious experience But how Exactly Viswanathanunderstands the "worldly" aspect ofreligious belief, and the criteria she uses for evaluating the "work" performed by conversion, are questions that even the informed rcader may find difficult to resolve. In making her case for “conversion as protest" Vieranathan rejects l'l$l\'iN.\lllAh ltlllQm- Contrary to this myth of" autonomous religious experience” (developed in the work of William james), belief is by nature "worldly.” It is not born in a vacu- um but articulates itself . in relation to political authority, culture, and law. Visnanathan’s inter- est in belief that actually does things renders the purely spiritual testimony (one that is indifferent to social institutions) a dis— appointing retreat into subjectivism. Ifconver— sion can be described independently ofthe political cuthre in which it occurs, she argues, it is because conversion, in such instances, is fundamentally aligned with the goals of that political culture. In lames's famous description of con- version, for example, the individual moves "from dullness to vibrancy, divi- sion to wholeness, delusion to enlighten ment . .. imprisonment to Freedom." Tl] is story of [he emancipated selidoes BooxstCununE Mayr‘lune 2000 not engage with history or with opposing societal nouns precisely because ofits fiJIrdamental congruence with the aims ofAmerican democracy. in North Amer— tea, the conversion olindr'n‘duals aligns itsellwiih the project ofcreating a civil society. This congruence between indi- vidual conversion and societal norms actually conceals the “Orldiiness ofbe- lief by yielding a "religious subiectivity removed from il; political moorings." rThe worldly or subversive agenda of conversion is far more conspicuous in Societies whose norms stand in tension Henry Newman's conversion to Cath- olicism (discussed in chapter 2) is a classic example, in Viswanatlian's View, ofan act which begins as a form oldis- sent but ultimately aligns itseltwith the nation's structure ofasscnts. In choos- ing to become a Catholic, Newman sought to retrieve the original unityand authority of the early church, now be- yond the reach ofAnglicanism because ofits compromises with secular power and cultural relativism. This quest for a unified faith, however, eventually led Newman to endorse the very proiect he had protested through his conversion: the consolidation of the English nation-stale. As a Catholic, Newman increasing ly identified himselfwith the popular i aspirations of the English working class He hoped to recover in the masses the preexisting unity of the church. But in the process, Newman curtailed the critical possibilities of his original con- version. By channeling his Catholicism into the popular will, he simultaneous- ly endorsed the state’s proiect of creat- ing arr English,‘national identity. In Viswanathan’s final analysis, Newman with the new identity ofconverts. john 9 13 ultirnately retreated to inward faith, abandoning the radical agenda of worldly faith. \liswanall'ran’s disappointment with the outcome of Newman's tourney rais- es two important questions ahout her definition of“worldly" faith. 'l'he first relates to her suggestion that believers can find no critical space as members Ola secular nation‘state. Cornered by the two "fatal" options of citizenship and separatism, believers, in Vishwa- nathau's scheme, seem to lack other alternatives for voicing dissent and avoiding co-option by the slate. ller analysis practically equates “worldly faith" with protest alone and delinl’s it from any constructive project of nation- bnilding. In other words, beiievcrs may not participate in national life "critical- ly.” This perspective elides a richly nuanced history of Christian engagev ment with culture, orrtlined in H. Richard Ncibuhr’s classic, Christ and Culture (395]). It also precludes the appreciation of the nation—state as a penultimate order, which believers may either engage or resist for redemp- live ends, a viewpoint developed in the Anabaptist tradition and by srrch figures ' as Dietrich Bonlrocffcr. One might also question how well William James and john llenry New- man capture the nature of conversion in nineteenth- and twerrtiethvccntury Western contexts. Viswanathan’s dis— cussion ofthcir worlc contributes to a picture of conversion in the West pri- rnarilyas individual and not corporate, and more inclined toward “assimila- tion" than “protest." Neither evangeli- cal revival, Pcntacostalism, the African American church, nor the Charismatic Movement is effectively captured by this fratrren'orlc. Furthermore, even the most inward, pictistic movements of the last two centuries contain their elev mcuts ofprotest, even ifthcy do not suit the critical agenda of this book. in each case, it is necessary to identify the exact sites of protest and assimilation, using the convert‘s own stories. Visryaryalhan deflps her thesis most effectively when leiéErt-‘es the \l’estern'trgdition and enters-the reality of nineteen{incentunicolonial lndia. Under the officially sanctioned llindu .._lll\ LIBRARY or RELrarnus BIOGRAPHY ‘ '_ § Monastic-Vision 'LAWRENGES CUNNINGHAM - .r ‘ Though the outlines ole‘romas Merton's life are generally known to his many readers, the detail: of his spiritual development are less familiar. Taking up where Merton's own Sewn Storey Afaunmtn ends. this pene- trating biography by Lawrence Cunningham explores Merton's monastic life and his subsequent growth into: modern-day spiritual master. ; 1 . .' Cunningham show that Merton a prolific writings and his continuing " influence can only be understood against the background of his contem— plative uperr'ence as a Trappist monk.'"lf one does not understand Mer- ton as a. monk,” writes Cunningham, "one does not understand Merton ' at all." Adding to estimates: or this banana and reliable biography is a fore- word by Father Timothy Keliy, the current abbot of the Abbey of Gethsemuni, who was himselfa novice under Merton. ISBN 0-3023-0222-2 ' 2450 pages - paperback - $16.00 At your bookstore, or call 300-253—7521 l Fax: BlGu459-6540 / .arl E-mailr sales®eerdmans.eoru War. B. Bcnosrans PUBLISHING Co. 155 II’FFFISON AVE SL l'GLKN'D llPlDS, M] 4950) 24 Mayltunc loot) BOOKSJKCULTURE .la. /_— \ law, converts to Christianity underwent a “civil death" wl1erebyjlreyloitcitcd the right toinberit propertyaud other "iliat rights. in order to rectify the loss of civil rights sutfercd by converts, the government passed in l3501hc Caste Disabilities Removal Act, which essentially restored the rights ofconvcrts, but only by treating them as though they were still Hindus. By recasting them as Hindus, the government pre- empted the radical and disruptive efi fects of conversion within the “Hindu society" they tried so hard to preserve. Viswanathan views the Act of 1850 as another instance by which the state transforms the originally subversive act of conversion into an act that amounts to ”no real change." "‘.\’lrile [converts] were treated as dead by their former reli gious community," she writes, "the leas oflile they wcrc given by civil courts was founded on an equally unreal licv tion, a perverse denial of their adopted religious idcntity." fly treating their deci- sion to enter a new community as legal— ly insignificant, the courts effectively suppressed the subjectivity of converts, embedded in their own stories of why they became Christian. Visuanathan illustrates this “loss ofsubiect'ivily" with detailed accounts ofcourt cases involvv ing converts seeking to overcome their disabilities under lliudrr law. Visuanathan develops her working concepts in the early chapters and ap plies them to the discussions of Ram- abai, Besarrt, and Ambcdlzar later on. Her use of literary theory certainly illn- mines the topic ofconversion in ways that a more traditional historian could not accomplish. This is especially true of her discussions ofthc subjectivity ofcon- yells, a facet easily missed by those who rely exclusively on missionary reports. in some instances, however, Viswauathan's historical findings take a hacl; seat to her theoretical interests. Such cases render a partial or an inaccurate picture ofwhat actually happened. For instance, Viswanatban stresses \ 7 that the laws of British hrdia tried to preempt the disruptive impact ofcons version by recasting converts as Hin- dus. "Nothing was more effective in regulating Christian conversion as an actnai change of religious belief," she writes, "than legislation enacted to pro- tect converts against civil disabilities imposed by Hinduism or lslarn." This assertion speaks to the theoretical inter ests ofthe hook, but does derive from the actual historic debates surrounding the Caste DisabilitlesjternoyalActof “150- 11 5.1193658, lintflrsAstsssrralb: . irrlribit§d__con\'cniorr by {coasting rglig: iops changeinto “no realchan e.” But if‘the Actwas essentially gearc toward preserving the status 1pm,; 1y did it ‘provolzé the ébhfiété‘réte? that it did? The t-lindii 'gcrjfifrgijtjggréfirr'a and Madras opposed the Act, biliaiing that it would facilitate c rrvclsron dill of n'riidfitiiffifit'tifi ', w.» p 13 joint family. Missiorrariessrrpportcd the Act in the name of freedom oft-or}- its own claims about reafr't) \dsr-vanatlran appreciate .': mm"... it performs tor-var Act in order torsecure their familial l\,k rights. ls it really the case, as Visua- nathan suggests, that all of these actors were pathetically ignorant of the insidi- ous, discursive designs ofthc Act to inhibit religious change? It is true that the Act of H350 prev served the rights of converts by treating them, sociologically, as Hindus. The claim, however, that this amounts to a "perverse denial oftheir adopted reli- gious identity" elides crucial aspects of the debates surrounding the social iden- tity of converts. First, the law was soon to recognize a newcomrnonal identity for converts, even to the degree ofde: recognizing their original caste identity. The indian Christian Marriage Act of l872, for instance, precluded converts from marrying under their local caste rites, thus reifying a “Christian commu- nity" around marriage. The [ndian Sue? I science and converts appealed to the?' ) cession Act of I865 and Divorce Act of t869 similarly recognized different legal standards for Hindu and Christian “communities." Christian families who continued to adhere to their caste prac- tices sometimes challenged these Acts in court because they assumed that Christians could not be socially and col turally "Hindu.” in other words, these Acts were not based on a "perverse denial" of religious change, but on the very presumption of such change. Second, since the beginnings of their operations in India both Roman Catholic and Protestant missionary soci+ ch'cs debated the question ofrvlrether conversion to Christianity should sever converts from their original caste and familial bonds. For the most olics were more 9135”" tants that Christian within the llirrdusqc' _ _ some cases, even Protc . Emissions recogniié‘d tfiE‘tfiE‘rit‘rfir keeping the ' original socialldéliiilifpjffig? t‘lE-llf- tact. '1b the extent that mission societies I entertained the hope that converts could believe in Christ while remaining a part oftheir Hindu family and caste, they shared with government officials the conviction that conversion should not entail the forfeiture oiproperly rights. In tcnns of the Act of 1850 per se, it ap- pears that the cgrfictbetween converts and secular authority was not as pro- nounced as'Visuanathan made it seem. Because of the priority Viswanatharr assigns to religious persons and their ideas, her book will be ofgreat interest not only to students of religion and society but also to Christians who seek a more sympathetic and less reduction- belief not in terms of but in terms oft/re work postmodernist ends. islie treatment of religion in the acadc~ my. The book certainly tries to recover the ”voice" of religious persons from the distortions and elisions of mission- ary reports and court records. At the same time, people of faith may wish to treat critically Viswanathan’s claim that belief functions as a form of cul‘ tural criticism. On the one band, the notion that belief and conversion have acted in history to interrogate the pre— rniscs of secular power underscores the work ofLesslie Newbigiu, Stanley llatrerwas, and other Christian writers who highlight the clash between belief and modernity. On the other hand, the notion of"belicf as criticism" rnaysinr- ply be a way for radical writers to ecr opt Christian belief into the cultural studies agenda. Viswanatban appreciates belief not in terms ofils own claims about reality, but in terms ofthe wort: it performs toward postmodernist enrls. it is not what believers are doing consciously and deliberately but what they do unconsciously that primarily interests Viswaualhan: not Newman's Catholi- cism but his conversion’s critique of the nation; not Ramabai’s conversion to Christianity but her acquisition of“a voice other own"; not the new alle- giance of converts but the Challenge that allegiance poses to the interests of the state. In each case, the proposition- al content of belief masks its pcrfonnas live character. 'i‘hus Viswanalhau’s proiect of rescuing the subjectivity of converts Front some fonu ofhegernony results, to some extent, in the loss of the same “voice” within the framework of her own theoretical interests. The book purports to overturn con— ventional understandings of conversion Ely-exploring its role as an act nfcuitural criticism. It thrives on paradigruvshatlcr— ing statements: Conversion has less to do with assimilation than with a sense of exile; subieclirily is produced not as a function ofepiphanic awakening “but at the intersection oflaw, nation, and secv tarian society"; dissent has less to do with recovering autonomy of popular religion than with challenging state categories; Ainbedkar’s conversion was less a reicc— lion ofpolitical solutions for Dalits than "a rewriting ofrcligious and cultural change into a form ofpolitical interven- tion." Yet, after sifting through masses of rich historical data shrouded in literary iargon, the reader might wonder ifthe returns oflhis eounterintuitive approach are as great as the book suggests. That conversion to Christianity in Buddhist, Muslim-, or llindudominal- ed regions is potentiallydisruptive, for example, is no news to any serious stu- dent of South Asia. Works by Diets Kopimau (1989} andrlohn lr'l’ebster (E992) highlight the role of conversion as_a mode of protest against the Hindu caste hierarchy. \‘l’ebstfie‘rflhaugslrgygr‘horv rnissionariesioftcn actcdaj lhgpatrons of‘Dalits against the vcstedjnteresls of upper caste rrrernbersand colonial prer- chants. The work of ltobErjjiiy irbcrg. l._anrin_S__a_:nElILand Geoffrey OddieM also has shown how conversion can inv Psalms.” . platto'tliisifisWilfrid Stirnissen, . .. __:_'e'a'rttug European Spiritual .‘r’olce Now turntable to r‘uli'ettcari Readers ' Praying the Name of Jesus fire Ancient Wisdom of tire-Jesus Prayer [Hfuseg ns - rssu:ors.rsoueo- rims Thls volume traces the evolution oi tirelesus Prayer from its beginnings in the wards otScrthure and tradltton of , the Desert Fathers, through Clrrtstlanlty's expansion, and into the ttrlrd millennium. includes the complete text of the classic introdrrcllon to the jesus Prayer written by Arclrlmandrlle Lev Giltel. Nourlslred by the Word Reading the tllbte Conternplattvely us paresrn-rssN-orsrrosrm- mes These profound nredilatlonson Seriptrnc-readlng are per- fecIly salted to both beginners and experienced students of God's Word. Chapters Include “The Relationship [le- tween the Old and the New Testament,” ”How the Mys- tics Interpret the Bible,” and "On Praylng Wlllr the The Git: of Spiritual Directlon 0n Spiritual Guldauce and Care for the Soul :25 [ugisii'fi - rsrwmsu-mss-s- mes Whether you‘re involved In spiritual dirECtlon and pasto- ral care,or slnrpiy lntcrested in learning more about Chris- tian leadership, tllls book Is an ideal starting point and an trivatuatrte reference. Cooling In May, 2000 Tlrls is the Day the Lord Has Made 365 Dally Meditations ass p155; Ia - rsrs;orsuesaro- nsss 1.806.325 29521- _ and nutrition _ _ ' -'.._i”.".”:9‘r"_‘..'5k [org fifeentrrlog.;.ruuq_:__ .' ' ' ' Liguou' mun“: rd fare. Man's." nan l J tenggglgdrgprgnises of_casteAanr.l co- lonialism. Viswanalhau draus little or nothing from their work. Even her chapter on Ambecllzar, who has become a hugelysignificanl figure in light of the Dali! movement in India, pays little homage to those who have gone before her to shed light on his rclrrarlzablc career (Elg‘ggLZgllL stance, receives no In So does Visuanathan actually say something new? Or is the book itself another instance of“clrangc that is not real change"? Though its historic claims are not terribly new, the boot; presents a very stimulating discussion ofconvcrsion and nationality, private judgment versus orthodoxy, and the accomnrodative claims ofthc secular state. The notion that conversion can change the face nfa nation is particularly relevant to the curv rent political climate in lndla. Since ur 'l'raudu- . .. lent" or "forced? conversions. Debates between advocates of a “secular" and a "Hindu" India resemble debates in the United States concenring the place of religion in politics. 'llre notion ofa "cross-current" otters an innovative scheme for studying both histories si- multaneously. History suffers, irorvever. when facts and events become sub- servient to theoretical concems. in the final galysis, Outside the Fold challenges us to consider how / conversion in reribgiiigsfi‘rfié'dr authority. The volurne’s sorrrce materiv ids and insights make it a potential feast for those who desire a more pro- minent place for religious ideas in sec ular scholarship. At the same time, its Cultural Studies approach tends to subordinate religious beliefto arr inde~ pendent critical agenda. This approach evaluates religious converts for their capacity to "do radical \vork" regardless of whether they do so consciously or intentionally. Can Cultural Studies, by incorporating religious belicfinto its agenda, help cure the secularist ills of the Western academy? How clfeclively does this perspective portray the actual “voices” of its believing subiects? Such questions prompted by this study will give readers from marry disciplines much to ponder. l1 7:9iea9rr ttooxleULruaE EIBL'CAL Imaooocnon Y€I VHE OPEN VIEW 0! DUB ' -' runner is! hut-selliég :51an . Mayljunc 2000 25 / l l ...
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