Fiction as “Method” for Approaching Religion Among Christian Converts in 19th Century Maharashtra
Panel:47 | Rethinking Relationships Between Anthropology, History and Theology in South Asian Religious Studies
Timeslot:07/26 | 16:10-16:30 UTC+2/CEST
Fiction writing, especially in the vernacular, constituted an important method for Christian converts to approach religious change and transformation in 19th century Bombay Presidency (current day Maharashtra). Converts used auto-/biographical and other stories to express their religious experiences- not just of Christianity, but also of their earlier religious affinities (mostly Brahminical Hinduism) that disappointed them. Using two prominent Marathi examples of vernacular literary fiction describing Christian conversion from the latter half of the 19th century (The Subhedar’s Son written by D.S. Sawarkar in 1898 and The Wanderings of Yamunabai written by Baba Padmanji in 1857), this presentation analyses how fiction-writing became a popular genre for Christian converts articulating the realism of Hindu oppression in their religious journey towards Christianity, often described as liberating and emancipatory. While fiction-writing entailed expressing the realism of Hindu oppression without the responsibility or burden of maintaining facticity, converts increasingly began using fiction to express their truthful religious experiences more “freely”. In this presentation, I argue that convert fiction-writing about Hindu oppression and Christian liberation enabled a re-endorsement and re-experience of convert reality, facilitated by the sharing of individual narrative and biography across missions and generations of converts. In this way, I suggest that fiction-writing encompassed an interstitial method, a third space to prevalent theological, historical, or anthropological approaches to religion.