In April, Routledge will release “Debating ‘Conversion’ in Hinduism and Christianity” by Ankur Barua (University of Cambridge, UK). The publisher’s description follows:
Hindu and Christian debates over the meanings, motivations, and modalities of ‘conversion’ provide the central connecting theme running through this book. It focuses on the reasons offered by both sides to defend or oppose the possibility of these cross-border movements, and shows how these reasons form part of a wider constellation of ideas, concepts, and practices of the Christian and the Hindu worlds.
The book draws upon several historical case-studies of Christian missionaries and of Hindus who encountered these missionaries. By analyzing some of the complex negotiations, intersections, and conflicts between Hindus and Christians over the question of ‘conversion’, it demonstrates that these encounters revolve around three main contested themes. Firstly, who can properly ‘speak for the convert’? Secondly, how is ‘tolerating’ the religious other connected to an appraisal of the other’s viewpoints which may be held to be incorrect, inadequate, or incomplete? Finally, what is, in fact, the ‘true Religion’? The book demonstrates that it is necessary to wrestle with these questions for an adequate understanding of the Hindu and Christian debates over ‘conversion.’
Questioning what ‘conversion’ precisely is, and why it has been such a volatile issue on India’s political-legal landscape, the book will be a useful contribution to studies of Hinduism, Christianity and Asian Religion and Philosophy.
Today, Routledge releases Constructing Indian Christianities: Conversion, Culture, and Caste, edited by Chad M. Bauman (Butler University) and Richard Fox Young (Princeton Theological Seminary). The publisher’s description follows:
This volume offers insights into the current ‘public-square’ debates on Indian Christianity. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork as well as rigorous analyses, it discusses the myriad histories of Christianity in India, its everyday practice and contestations and the process of its indigenisation. It addresses complex and pertinent themes such as Dalit Indian Christianity, diasporic nationalism and conversion. The work will interest scholars and researchers of religious studies, Dalit and subaltern studies, modern Indian history, and politics.
In June, Oxford University Press will publish Loyal Enemies: British Converts to Islam, 1850-1950, by Jamie Gilham. The publisher’s description follows.
Loyal Enemies uncovers the history of the earliest British converts to Islam who lived their lives freely as Muslims on British soil, from the 1850s to the 1950s. Drawing on original archival research, it reveals that people from across the range of social classes defied convention by choosing Islam in this period. Through a series of case studies of influential converts and pioneering Muslim communities, Loyal Enemies considers how the culture of Empire and imperialism influenced and affected their conversions and subsequent lives, before examining how they adapted and sustained their faith. Jamie Gilham shows that, although the overall number of converts was small, conversion to Islam aroused hostile reactions locally and nationally. He therefore also probes the roots of antipathy towards Islam and Muslims, identifies their manifestations and explores what conversion entailed socially and culturally. He also considers whether there was any substance to persistent allegations that converts had “divided” loyalties between the British Crown and a Muslim ruler, country or community. Loyal Enemies is a book about the past, but its core themes–about faith and belief, identity, Empire, loyalties and discrimination– are still salient today.
This January, Yale University Press will publish The Conversion of Scandinavia: Vikings, Merchants, and Missionaries in the Remaking of Northern Europe by Anders Winroth (Yale University). The publisher’s description follows.
In this book a MacArthur Award-winning scholar argues for a radically new interpretation of the conversion of Scandinavia from paganism to Christianity in the early Middle Ages. Overturning the received narrative of Europe’s military and religious conquest and colonization of the region, Anders Winroth contends that rather than acting as passive recipients, Scandinavians converted to Christianity because it was in individual chieftains’ political, economic, and cultural interests to do so.
Through a painstaking analysis and historical reconstruction of both archeological and literary sources, and drawing on scholarly work that has been unavailable in English, Winroth opens up new avenues for studying European ascendency and the expansion of Christianity in the medieval period.
This month, Palgrave Macmillan releases Religious Conversions in the Mediterranean World, edited by Nadia Marzouki (European University Institute, Italy) and Oliver Roy (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales). The publisher’s description follows.
While globalization and the European construction increasingly undermine the model of the nation-state in the Mediterranean world, conversions reveal the capacity of religion to disrupt, and unsettle previous understandings of political and social relations. Converts’ claims and practice are often met with the hostility of the state and the public while converts can often be perceived either as traitors or as unconscious and weak tools of foreign manipulation.
Based on first-hand ethnographical research from several countries throughout the Mediterranean region, this book is the first of its kind in studying and analyzing contemporary conversions and their impact on recasting ideas of nationalism and citizenship. In doing so, this interdisciplinary study confronts historical, anthropological, political science and sociological approaches which offers an insight into the national, legal and political challenges of legislating for religious minorities that arise from conversions. Moreover, the specific examination of contemporary religious conversion contributes more widely to debates about the delinking of religion and culture, globalization, and secularism.
According to reports in the Arab media and Reuters, Saudi Arabia has convicted a Lebanese man of “evangelism” and sentenced him to six years in prison and 300 lashes. According to reports, the man, an Evangelical Christian, converted a Saudi woman in her 20s to Christianity and spirited her out of the country to Lebanon. The Saudi Gazette notes that the man had the woman’s personal belongings sent ahead of her to Lebanon, thus proving that “he had planned out the whole thing and premeditated the woman’s conversion to Christianity.” Not only conversion, but premeditated conversion! The case has been a cause celebre in Saudi Arabia, where proselytism is illegal and converting from Islam to another religion is a capital offense.
On Tuesday, April 16, Fordham’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work will host the Martin J. Hertz Lecture in Jewish Law and Culture: “How Concepts of Jewish Peoplehood Inform Legal Rulings.” The lecture will be delivered by Rabbi David Ellenson of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion:
Disputes surrounding the nature of conversion to Judaism are at the center of some of the most contentious legal debates taking place in modern Jewish jurisprudence. In this lecture, diverse rulings issued by Orthodox rabbis on matters related to conversion will be presented and analyzed. In so doing, it will be shown that these decisions do not simply present Jewish legal judgment in an instant case, Rather, these holdings are policy stances that rabbis are advancing in order to define membership in the Jewish people in an era where intermarriage is common and where the borders of the Jewish community are often porous and indeterminate. It will argued that way in which each individual rabbinic decisor views the notion of Jewish peoplehood serves as an independent and often decisive variable in informing the decisions that rabbis issue in these cases.
Details are here.
This past January, University of Pennsylvania Press published The Faith of Remembrance by Nathan Wachtel (Collège de France). The publisher’s description follows.
In a series of intimate and searing portraits, Nathan Wachtel traces the journeys of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Marranos—Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism but secretly retained their own faith. Fleeing persecution in their Iberian homeland, some sought refuge in the Americas, where they established transcontinental networks linking the New World to the Old. The Marranos—at once Jewish and Christian, outsiders and insiders—nurtured their hidden beliefs within their new communities, participating in the economic development of the early Americas while still adhering to some of the rituals and customs of their ancestors. In a testament to the partial assimilation of these new arrivals, their faith became ever more syncretic, mixing elements of Judaism with Christian practice and theology.
Fordham’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyers’ Work will host a lecture, “‘Who is a Jew': Israeli Law versus the Press,” on February 19. The speaker, Professor Yifat Holzman-Gazit, will discuss a 2005 Israeli High Court decision on the validity of non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism performed outside Israel. Details are here.
Last Thursday, I attended a meeting of the UN General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian & Cultural Committee – the so-called “Third Committee” – for presentation of the annual report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Professor Heiner Beilefeldt. (Earlier in the day, CLR had co-hosted a briefing with Beilefeldt). It was an interesting experience.
Professor Beilefeldt is a serious, energetic, and well-motivated scholar, and his report, which focuses on protecting the right of conversion in international human rights law, is worth reading. In some respects, the Committee meeting was worthwhile, too. The Third Committee is a huge body, with delegates from all UN member states; it meets in an oversized room that feels like a repurposed Costco. There is a platform at the front, where the Chair and Special Rapporteur sit, and rows and rows of tables with delegates and staff. The Special Rapporteur presents a summary of his report, and delegates are then allowed to respond and ask questions, which they do in the studied, affectless monotone of diplomatic conferences.
About a dozen state delegations responded to Professor Beilefeldt’s report. Some interventions were revealing. For example, Germany and the Netherlands stressed the need for protecting atheism as a belief. The Canadian and Chinese delegates got into a dustup over whether Falun Gong is a religion or a cult; the Continue reading