In Search of Identity: Debates on Religious Conversion in India/Identity, Hegemony, Resistance: Towards a Social History of Conversions (1800-2000)

Article excerpt

In Search of Identity: Debates on Religious Conversion in India. By Sebastian C. H. Kim. New Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003. Pp. 250. Rs 840.

Identity, Hegemony, Resistance: Towards a Social History of Conversions (1800-2000). By Biswamoy Pati. New Delhi: Three Essays Collective, 2003. Pp. 57. Rs 90 / $10.

The resurgence of Hindu right-wing groups and rising intercommunal tensions between Hindus and Muslims and between Hindus and Christians in India have brought the issue of conversion center stage in both public political debates and more private discussions among scholars, social activists, and religious groups. Conversion poses a vexing problem in contemporary India, even as the national media continue to report attacks on churches, "reconversions" of tribal communities to Hinduism, and mass conversions of lower castes to Buddhism. These two studies are therefore very timely.

Although the titles do not name a religion, both books focus on conversion to Christianity alone. Sebastian Kim analyzes twentieth-century debates about conversion between. Hindus and Christians and among the Christian theologians who have espoused inculturation approaches, as well as promoting liberation theologies, to theorize on mass Dalit conversions. Kim contends that existing Christian studies analyze conversion in sociocultural, rather than theological, terms. He thus seeks to present the theological underpinnings of the arguments both for and against conversion and to "understand these within the historical dynamics of the context" (p. 9). The study also seeks to view these debates as "part of a theological debate in the wider Christian world" (p. 89).

Analyzing the impact of Gandhi, the Niyogi Report, and subsequent anticonversion bills passed by some Indian states in the 1960s and 1970s, Kim argues that Hindu and Christian understandings reveal the limitations of both perspectives. Theologians on both sides have failed to engage each other in dialogue, in any real sense of mutuality, which is an important basis of a productive exchange. …