Issues and Controversies about Religious Conversion in Hindu-Christian Relations

Dr Sebastian Kim

Tuesday, 4 March, 2003; 4:00-6:00pm

Keynes Hall, King's College

This lecture is based on my recent book, In Search of Identity: Debates on Religious Conversion in India (New Delhi & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). The abstract of the book is as follows:
Religious conversion was a contentious issue between the Hindu and Christian communities of India in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. After Independence the problem intensified until in 1999 the Prime Minister called for a "national debate" on the subject. This book examines the major debates on religious conversion between Hindus and Christians and among Christian theologians in twentieth-century India after Independence in order to assess the main arguments for and against conversion and the reinterpretations of conversion. It critiques both sides of the debate by examining the counter-arguments.
This book deals with the debates between Hindus and Christians that took place during the Constituent Assembly (1947-49), over the "Niyogi Report" on Christian missionary activities (1956), and around the introduction of the "freedom of religion" acts (1967, 1968, 1978). It examines the responses to the problem by Protestant theologians in the 1960s and 70s, and by Catholic theologians in the 1970s and 80s, and discusses the issues raised in the intensified debate between Hindus and Christians in the 1990s.
This book aims to show that, though Hindu objections to conversion are conditioned by socio-cultural and political circumstances, their arguments are deeply rooted in their own philosophy and religious traditions. Examination of the responses of Indian theologians and missionaries to the Hindu objections reveals that the religious problem of the encounter between Christianity and Hinduism has not been sufficiently addressed. The book identifies a number of emerging historical problems in Hindu-Christian debates and suggests that a fresh appraisal of the Christian emphasis on human rights and the Hindu tradition of tolerance will be crucial for the future of Hindu-Christian relations in India.