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Conversion and Critical Language

Prakash Louis

By Rudolf C. Heredia
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2007, , Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

'Conversion is a complex and emotionally charged issue. Fundamentalists exploit it, liberals complicate it, many do not comprehend what the fuss is about, and others shy away from getting involved’. These statements express the centrality of the book Changing Gods: Rethinking Conversion in India by Rudolf Heredia, a Jesuit sociologist who attempts to explore the both the language around conversion as well as the process and the outcome of conversion. Being a provocative writer, Rudolf Heredia invites the readers to go back to the pages of history of religious conversion, both individual and collective, and also take note of the present debate in India about conversion and related issues.   The introductory chapter, ‘Many Voices’ attempts to capture the different viewpoints about religion and religious conversion. Since religious beliefs and practices themselves are perceived by different people and groups in different ways, the perception about religious conversion is also bound to be multiple and often crisis bound. The author reminds the reader right at the beginning of the book that the social location of the person is essential to understand the viewpoint and standpoint of the person about religion and religious conversion. The author foregrounds the fact that due to various historical, personal, religious, political and economic reasons religious conversion has become a highly charged issue. In this milieu he presents this book as an attempt to clear some of the common ground still available and reach out to the middle across these divides.   The fifth chapter ‘Personal Journeys’ presents four case studies that are related to conversion of personalities, which had some bearing on conversion in India, and on the language that surrounds conversion. Analysing the conversion of Dr. Ambedkar to Buddhism and the issues that surround his conversion, Heredia argues that Ambedkar is crucially important, for he sets the issue of religious conversion in a multidimensional context that we must not ignore and interrogates us in a manner we cannot escape. Above all the author tries to establish the fact that Ambedkar’s conversion is a rejection of brahmanism. In contrast to Ambedkar, Gandhi’s stance on conversion is founded not on the denial of any rights, e.g., the freedom of choice and the freedom to preach, but on his concept of duty, the obligations imposed by one’s dharma. Using indigenous language to explain his point of view the author argues that Gandhi was all for atmaparivartan, ...

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