Converting Women: Gender and Protestant Christianity in Colonial South India

By Bloomer, Kristin | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Converting Women: Gender and Protestant Christianity in Colonial South India


Bloomer, Kristin, Anglican Theological Review


Converting Women: Gender and Protestant Christianity in Colonial South India. By Eliza F. Kent. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. xii + 322 pp. $49.95 (cloth).

At a time when Hindu nationalism has erupted into violence against Christian missionaries, converts, and others considered "un-Indian," Eliza F. Kent's Converting Women provides a particularly enlightening historiography of the complexities of Indian conversion to Christianity. Hers is an analysis particularly interested in agency-namely, the manner in which Hindus of nineteenth and early twentieth century South India participated as agents in their own conversion, not merely as passive recipients or victims of colonialism. In Kent's telling, Protestant Christianity rarely rolled like a tank down a one-way street. Rather, it interacted multi-directionally with various specific modes of "Indian-ness," as Indians-as well as Americans and Europeans who arrived on Indian shores to proselytize-sought new identities, opportunities, and channels of authority through which they attempted to forward their lot.

Kent's focus is women on both sides of the conversion equation. She investigates the experiences of British and American female missionaries as well as of Indian female converts to argue, quite convincingly, that "a 'discourse of respectability' among the Christian communities in the south of the Madras Presidency during the British Raj . . . radically transformed the style of femininity to which Indian Christian women were expected to conform" (p. 4). Most notably, she underscores that this discourse evolved out of a dialogue, albeit an often tense one, between indigenous and imported realms.

Her book is divided into two parts. The first, "Caste, Christianity and Conversion," lays the groundwork for the second, "The Conversion of Gender," by presenting the social, religious, ideological, and historical background of south Indian, Tamil-speaking converts and of the missionaries who converted them to Christianity. Chapter 1 begins "at the beginning" of Protestant Christianity in south India-with the Lutheran mission that arrived in Tranquebar in 1706 under the protection of the Danish East India Company and, later, King George of England. It goes on to review the mass conversions of low-caste Tamils that followed the Lutherans' arrival, and the British colonial administration's attempt to regulate sexuality through such tools as advice manuals for British East India Company workers wanting to maintain Indian mistresses.

Chapter 2 provides more detailed descriptions of the lives of low-caste Hindus who converted to Christianity en masse. Kent critically examines colonial administrators' and Protestant missionaries' accounts of these "natives," written in an attempt to understand and then to rule India through indigenous institutions. She juxtaposes these colonial accounts-which fueled the creation of rigid census categories and legislation that relied on them-to the "back-talk" of caste representatives who sought to counter false representations with their own mythic stories of origin. Seizing the chance to improve their castes "untouchable" social status, toddy-tapping Shanars claimed they were members of the once-noble Kshatriya class of Nadars, fallen from a lineage of kings. In so doing, they appropriated colonial misunderstandings of the varna system described in Sanskrit texts and re-deployed them in the creation of a new, respectable identity. As far as women's improved caste status and daily freedoms were concerned, however, higher did not always mean better-and the question of "whether the urge to create and inhabit more respectable identities . . . entailed more oppressive forms of gender relations" (p. 78) is one to which Kent later turns. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Converting Women: Gender and Protestant Christianity in Colonial South India
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.