Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chad Bauman's "Pentecostals, Proselytization, and Anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India"

Chad M. Bauman is Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University and is the author of Christian Identity and Dalit Religion in Hindu India, 1868-1947.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Pentecostals, Proselytization, and Anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India, and reported the following:
“…because recuperative conversions have become so common, even though they do not always endure, they remain the primary source of Christian growth in India today.”

Page 99 of Pentecostals, Proselytization, and anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India appears at the beginning of a chapter in which I argue that “recuperative conversions,” that is, conversions provoked by an experience of what the convert believes to be miraculous spiritual or physical healing at the hands of a Christian, are the most common reason non-Christians begin affiliating with Christianity in India today.

The argument is significant because the prevalence of recuperative conversions—provoked most commonly by Pentecostal Christians, and not unrelated to the reasons Pentecostals are disproportionately targeted in anti-Christian violence—complicates the stale accusation, widespread among Christianity’s critics since colonial times, that crassly self-interested members of India’s lower-caste and tribal communities convert primarily for material gain, and that predatory missionaries (usually imagined as “foreign,” but in contemporary times rarely so) prey upon those groups, “inducing” them to convert with offers of education, jobs, or money.

While the book acknowledges and even documents the many ways in which the greater wealth and technological power of the West has been aphrodisiacal, perhaps attracting some to Christianity who hoped they might by conversion gain greater access to it, explicit offers of material support for conversion to Christianity have at all times in Indian history been rare, and have been condemned as vehemently by mainstream Christians as by non-Christians. The primary function of the accusation, then, is not to identify a significant problem so much as to rhetorically bolster the Hindu nationalist narrative that Christianity is a dangerous, imperialistic, anti-Indian religion, in fact less a religion than a subversive political cancer like communism, and that drastic measures, like laws proscribing or prohibiting conversion, or perhaps even acts of intimidation or violence, are for this reason justified to arrest its progress.

However, as I argue in the book, this narrative, and in fact the entire debate about conversion in India today, is impoverished because it fails to recognize that the growth of Pentecostalism, and of Christianity in India more generally, is fueled primarily by recuperative conversions, in which Christian and popular Hindu healers compete on a more or less equal playing field for converts who cannot be accused of having converted for what critics might condemn as “material” reasons.
Learn more about Pentecostals, Proselytization, and Anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue