Blog Archives

Conference news

After a successful New Delhi workshop in December 2015 the project team have a panel at the 24th ECSAS (European Conference on South Asian Studies)  at the University of Warsaw from 27 to 30 July 2016.

Keep up to date with all our conference news here.

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Conversion beyond religions: A novel from a Hindu perspective

In my first blog post on ‘fact and fiction’ I mentioned three groups of authors for whom fictitious conversion narratives seem to have been particularly productive: Christian Missionaries, Europeans residing in India and – perhaps this may come across as a surprise – the Indian Hindu elite. I want to compare the novels Mimosa and The outcaste which I blogged on in previous entries to a novel composed by an Indian writer, who intellectually engaged with Christianity but never gave up his Hindu religion:

Clarinda, A historical novel, written by A.

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Conversion in Fiction: the exploration of a dilemma

In the last post I wrote about fictitious conversion accounts and their potential vis-à-vis factual report. But as I mentioned there, many of these fictional accounts were based on ‘real’ lives. At our Delhi workshop I presented autobiographical accounts of the Mangalore-born Brahmin Anandrao who joined Christianity and, under his Christian name Herrman Anandrao Kaundinya, became the first ordained pastor in the ranks of the Protestant Basel Mission in India. His conversion in 1844 stirred up a controversy between his family, the missionaries and the British administration. While preparing this paper, I came across a novel that seems to be based on this story.

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The “invention” of conversion: fact, fiction, and what lies in-between…

Life stories of religious conversion appear in many shapes and are told from various perspectives. You might wonder why authors favour imaginative literature over factual reports. Perhaps this has to do with the potential of literary texts to draw vivid scenes, develop multiple plots and lines of argument, map out social environments and reflect inner motions that are inaccessible to external observation. Fictional texts – such as a well-composed novel with a set of characters, suspense, emotions etc. – open a whole universe to the reader that will surpass most plots one can experience in real life. In short, literature has the potential to be “more than real”,

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Narrating Self-transformation: The inexpressible and the inexplicable

What elements of a ‘life’ can be captured in narrative and conversely how do narratives handle the ‘unspeakable’?

In several of the autobiographical narratives we discussed at the Delhi workshop, we noticed the palpable presence of emotion, challenging us to examine the function of the ‘affective’ in narratives of transformation. At various points, narrators are overcome by doubt, fear, anger, remembered pain, shame or even disgust. Accompanying these emotionally charged moments, we noticed references to the inexplicable: ‘sins,’ ‘miracles,’ ‘tears,’ ‘prayers,’ even ‘physical illness.’ These moments of pain, recollected through narrative, connecting reason and the irrational, associating the body,

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Traditions of Remembering and Life-Writing


Though I am weak andhead-987227_1920 tired now,

And my youthful step long gone,

Leaning on this staff,

I climb the mountain peak.

My cloak cast off, my bowl overturned,

I sit here on this rock.

And over my spirit blows

The breath

Of liberty

I’ve won, I’ve won the triple gems.

The Buddha’s way is mine.

[Trans. Uma Chakravarti and Kumkum Roy][1]

This poem from the ‘Therīgāthā’ (a collection of poems written by senior Buddhist nuns from about 600 BCE) is one of the earliest extant personal accounts written by a woman focusing on following a specific religious path.

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A Treasure Trove…!

A couple of months ago Matthias spoke about the excitement of hunting in the archive. As he said, the sense of anticipation when you don’t know exactly what a box or folder in front of you might contain is sharp but you also hold yourself back, warning yourself against disappointment. But then, once in a while, you hold your breath as you spot that one piece of paper that makes all the hours spent rummaging through piles of yellowing documents worthwhile….


This is what happened unexpectedly just a few weeks ago. After having spent some days familiarizing myself with the way the National Library of Scotland catalogues its nineteenth-century manuscripts and compiling a list of Scottish missionaries who had worked in Tamil-speaking parts of South India,

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Speaking through Images 3: What might be left unsaid…

It was Matthias who stumbled upon our second image on the home page, ‘Barber at Work,’ when buying old postcards on the internet. The rest of us agreed that this striking picture should form part of the website since it resonates with the several themes of the project.

This photograph from the 1920s captures a move from one state to another in medias res, focusing our eye on that ‘in-between’ stage that is so difficult to speak about. What fascinates me is the foregrounding of the body here, a body that is clearly experiencing a process of change… a body that is neither here nor there (or,

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Speaking through images 2: Power, Ambiguity, Identity

Pictures are fascinating. When we look at the same image again and again we discover new things or think of new stories behind the picture. Although the message of an image often seems obvious, most pictures have more than one dimension and inspire to tell various stories. Because they are fascinating and open to interpretation, pictures can be very powerful. With the photographs and sketches on our website, we wish to invite you to reflect together with us about the issues of our project.

Don’t worry if the pictures don’t speak to you at first sight.

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Speaking through Images 1: Action, Camera, Word?

Some of our friends have been intrigued by the images we’ve used to construct our website and we wondered if perhaps others too are curious about the visual contents of the website. So we thought we’d run a short series of blogs to take you through some of the thinking behind our choice of images and what we think they say.

Now, one of the things you learn very quickly when setting up a website is that images can either make or sink your website. No wonder we began to discuss what images we should use very early on.

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