Religion, Media, and the Marketplace

By Lynn Schofield Clark | Go to book overview

4

Literacy in the Eye
of the Conversion Storm

GAURI VISWANATHAN

This chapter looks at how religion, and specifically Christian mission work and
its emphasis on literacy, has operated in relation to the social and economic
development of the Indian marketplace and political system. Beginning from
the standpoint that literacy is a key aspect of development and modernization,
Gauri Viswanathan explores how literacy, and its historic ties to Christian pros-
elytizing, is currently at the center of debates about the future of India. To fully
grasp the argument of this chapter, it is necessary to begin by considering India's
relationship to its colonial past.

In the middle of the twentieth century, India became an independent state,
freed from the political, economic, and cultural control of the British colonial
empire. When under colonial power, it was believed by those in Britain that India's
prospects for development were directly linked to the country's ability to model
itself after its Western colonial rulers. Yet in the postcolonial era, many people,
including leaders such as Gandhi and intellectuals like Edward Said, have criti-
cized that viewpoint as imperialistic. India needed to free itself from the chains of
colonialism, such leaders insisted, and that meant exposing the ways in which
such colonial-inspired development efforts tended to suppress Indian and Hindu
culture and tradition in favor of Christianity and Western cultural approaches.

One of the issues that has come under discussion in India, therefore, is the
issue of Christian missionary organizations and the role these groups have
played in relation to social programs. Prior to colonial rule, for example, there
was no funding or much general support for an educational system that would

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