Matthew Narain uses project materials to design a new lesson!

In summer 2019 I attended a seminar at the University of Manchester aimed at teachers of Religious Studies.  At the event we were introduced to an array of resources and asked to email if we created any lesson plans.  Well, better late than never I hope, but I’ve created a lesson utilizing some of these resources.  It’s a bit of a crow-barred lesson in truth as I don’t actually teach Hinduism in any SOW, so I’ve tried to fit it into a Sikhism SOW instead.   

A section of a slide from Matthew’s powerpoint showing the kinds of links that can be created between caste, religion and popular sport and some questions that pupils can engage with

In this lesson I intend to explain how the teachings of Guru Nanak led to Sikhs (theoretically) denouncing the caste system in all of its forms.  I’ve also attempted to link it to the BLM movement as although it’s not specifically about ‘black people,’ I believe the lesson is appropriate as it’s discussing how colonial Britain propagated discrimination which still has considerable consequences today (see links to my favourite sport – cricket!).

I’ve altered the summary of Lakshmibai’s autobiography ever so slightly just so it fits onto three A4 pages and is more accessible to year 8 (12-13 years old) RE students.  I’ve assumed teachers have an element of knowledge regarding the topics and I’ll discuss with them some points I want them to make during the lesson but hopefully you get the gist of how I’ve tried to use the project’s resources.

Finally – I’ve no doubt you’ve forgotten the seminar by now, but thank you for delivering it, I found it extremely interesting and regularly discuss some of the key points I took from it with my students, such as how Christianity is perceived almost entirely through a white-European lens.

It was a real privilege to attend the seminar–the morning session was great and exactly what I hope to attain from a seminar–an element of challenge, resources and ideas all contribute to a sense of enthusiasm and I’ve been wanting to create something ever since.  I also keep meaning to buy Lakshmibai’s biography but haven’t got round to that either – maybe today is the day!

Here is my lesson in a downloadable format!

Matthew Narain, RE teacher, Chapel-en-le-Frith High School

Teacher’s Workshop: Understanding religious lives through story.

It’s been a while since I’ve found myself acting alongside a colleague in a scene of domestic tension, then being asked to reflect with others on what this tells us about religious ideas and practices. Focused discussions and lots of laughter featured strongly at a recent CPD workshop for teachers at Manchester University. The workshop explored stories of lives changed by religious encounters between Christians, Hindus, Parsis and others in colonial India.  The workshop was distinctive because it featured stories of religious encounter ‘from below,’ written by Indians and translated from different languages into English.  Whilst it is not too difficult to find first-hand accounts of such encounters written by Christian missionaries, this fresh perspective provided food for thought about new ways to teach Religious Studies in the classroom.  We drew on stories from the unique collection of accounts of the experience of Christian Mission by Indians that the project uncovered. These provided insights into the many challenges posed by the encounter with Christianity during the long colonial era in India. 

The workshop sessions led to lots of discussions that put religious change in everyday perspective.  For example, we talked about the significance of a biscuit of doubtful provenance for a young Hindu attracted by radical friends and their challenge to caste norms.  We constructed lesson plans about Hinduism and Christianity using the materials, including one which explored the arguments of a father and son about how important it is to express your religious ideas in public. We also had an energetic post-lunch drama workshop – courtroom drama and marital tensions are the stuff of Religious Studies!  

‘In the dock’.  Re-enacting conversion as courtroom drama. 
Two teachers re-enact ‘marital debate’ about religious practices at the workshop

The workshop attracted RE teachers from the North West and the Midlands. The materials we looked at were all from 19th century India, so a key topic of discussion was how relevant they were for secondary school students in Religious Studies classes in 21st Century Britain.  By approaching the materials as examples of religious encounter, teachers at the workshop were able to draw parallels to the experiences of students living in multireligious cities like Manchester and Coventry. In such cities, small-scale encounters between people from different religious traditions are part of daily life. The project materials show a similar concern for these daily issues – how to deal with your Christian husband’s new friends; fending off the threat of social isolation; trying out transgression by eating something previously forbidden.  These narratives of small-scale challenges show how religious encounter is experienced by ordinary people – less in terms of theological debate, and more in terms of all the ways that religious practices are woven into everyday lives and relationships. 

‘Sculptures of doubt’ created as part of the drama session

In our closing discussion, teachers sent a strong message that tailored resources for teaching non-Christian religions, and for teaching Christianity from different perspectives, would be eagerly received.  In our project we have begun to do this, but there is much much more to do! One teacher commented that “I’ve left today full of ideas”. I also had lots of ideas!  The workshop taught me that we need to work more closely with our colleagues in the secondary sector. We will all benefit by discussing ideas and practical solutions together to ensure that Religious Studies is a vibrant and compelling subject at the heart of the Humanities curriculum, right through from school to university. 

Recent Publication: Translation of a Marathi Conversion Narrative

The Subhedar’s Son: A Narrative of Brahmin Christian Conversion from Nineteenth Century Maharashtra

Deepra Dandekar (Ph.D.) Researcher, Center for the History of Emotions, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin

The Subhedar’s Son: A Narrative of Brahmin-Christian Conversion from Nineteenth Century Maharashtra published by the AAR Series of Religion in Translation, OUP (NY) in 2019, is an introduced and annotated English translation of the Marathi book Subhedārachā Putra written by Rev. D.S. Sawarkar (1867-1952), an educationist and Christian reformer. The original Marathi book published in 1895 by the Bombay Tract and Book Society is a novelized version of D.S. Sawarkar’s father, Rev. Shankar Nana Balwant’s conversion at the CMS mission at Nasik in 1849.

This fictional representation of Sawarkar’s father’s life primarily highlights the travails of conversion among upper caste families in Maharashtra and the trauma of social ostracism associated with being Brahmin and Christian at the same time. Since Brahmins were traditionally bequeathed the ‘sacred’ responsibility of upholding Sanātan Dharma and Hinduism, conversion to Christianity constituted a betrayal and abdication of this duty. A narrative negotiating these humiliating allegations of betrayal makes Subhedārachā Putra a complicated story of Christian conversion that enjoyed intersectionality with caste, Marathi identity, and staunch patriotism. The narrative, hence, represents the quintessential struggle of first-generation, upper-caste Christians in Nineteenth Century Maharashtra that combined Christian conviction with nascent Marathi and upper-caste nationalism.

Translating this book was an interesting experience, primarily due to the timeless and emotional quality of its narrative. While the language used, Marathi, was difficult and formal at times, often requiring the use of dictionaries for words no longer in use, the narrative remained vibrant and resonated with descriptions of daily life. While some words were Persianized in comparison to the more Sanskrit forms in vogue today, the novel stands out for its unexpectedly intimate and emotional nature. Though Marathi Christian texts from the nineteenth century, such as those authored by Baba Padmanji, including his autobiography and personal memoirs, follow a didactic style, Sawarkar’s book retains a dramatic flavour by organizing the text in conversations. The story teems with romance and emotional descriptions of conflicts embedded in interpersonal, family and social relationships that underwent heavy transformation in the Nineteenth century. Set at the historical juncture when power transferred from the Maratha Empire, that had hitherto employed Brahmins like Shankar Nana’s father, to the British administration accompanied by the commencement of missions, the Subhedārachā Putra constitutes a crucible for understanding social and religious change in modern Maharashtra. 

Nasik was an interesting, if not a deliberate choice for CMS missionaries, since the town was dominated by Brahminical conservatism, with the Kumbha Mela organized on the Godavari’s riverbanks. The CMS mission, aiming at converting Brahmins, was first established in the early 1830s outside Nasik, in a separate Christian inhabitation named Sharanpur. Sharanpur also housed an orphanage and school for African slaves rescued from Arab ships in the 1840s, an industrial school for converts imbibing professional skills and a centre for developing vernacular Christian translations and literature.

Fulfilling the CMS goal of converting Brahmins, Shankar Nana was one of its first upper caste converts from Nasik, who spent the next forty years serving the CMS as a priest, catechist, preacher, evangelist and Marathi teacher. Apart from Nasik Brahmins, the surrounding region was extensively populated by Adivasis. The CMS, specially Shankar Nana was very successful in proselytizing among various Adivasi communities of the region. In his last days, Shankar Nana, ordained as Deacon, administered a sanatorium for the destitute and dying at Malegaon; a cantonment institution that was originally meant as a ‘Lock Hospital’ serving army officers. Having preached as Marathi pastor for twenty-six years at the time of his death and having assisted in the running of CMS schools and orphanages from his own home in Malegaon, both Shankar Nana and his wife Parubai, who was almost thirty years his junior, passed away in 1884. The couple was survived by six daughters and a son (Rev. D.S. Sawarkar), who published the novelized version of his father’s conversion narrative ten years later.

A copy of the book can be ordered from Oxford Scholarship Online.

Narratives of awakening: A Linguistics of Religion approach 2

Guest Post: Wolf-Andreas Liebert,
Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Koblenz

New media breaks through familiar narrative patterns

Let me move next to sequences of a published movie titled “Satori” (OpenSkyFilms 2013). The Film is about a woman’s awakening in a small spiritual community. The documentary narrates not only the story retrospectively but includes material filmed during the awakening process.

In Zen Buddhism, Satori means a sudden insight into the nature of mind beyond rationality and language. The traditional sitting meditation (Zazen) or paradoxical interventions (Koans) are regarded as enabling conditions for a Satori. Although the term “Satori” comes from the context of Zen Buddhism, the community in the documentary has little to nothing to do with Zen Buddhism.

There is no recognizable Zen practice performed in the community and there is also no concern with the central sutras or the ethics of Zen. The website rather reveals a personal background of the spiritual teacher John David in the Neo-Advaita with reference to Sri H. W. L. Poonja (“Papaji”). In the film, the Zen term “Satori” is only contextualized by a few quotes from Alan Watts, among others. As mentioned earlier, bricolage is a key feature of late modern informal religiousness.

You can buy the documentary on DVD and watch the official movie trailer on YouTube.

What’s immediately striking is the autonomous body activities like shaking, babbling, screaming and moaning. There seems to be no more rational control. You remember that there were similar descriptions in Tolle’s awakening narrative but the film medium provides a much greater intensity. Like you were really attending this awakening process. As if you could observe the ineffable. The Zen quotations that appear suggest that this is not a pathological phenomenon, but a sacred transformation.

Another point is the retrospectiveness of awakening narratives. This example thus shows us how in this film narrative the purely retrospective character of a classical conversion narrative is broken in favour of a new narrative form. The documentary as a whole is actually retrospective but elements of it are not; these real time ‚awakening‘ snippets should surely be considered in detail in further research. This holds for many awakening narratives on YouTube and similar platforms and is possible due to the film medium.

As Thomas Luckmann (1967) has already written, the loss of significance of Christian institutions does not mean that there are no more experiences of transcendence in late modern societies. According to Luckmann, these show up as “invisible religion”. Interpretations of experiences of the sacred and the transcendent no longer lie in the established churches, but are increasingly lived and regulated by small communities and in the private sphere. Supported by social media they increasingly compete with the established churches and now claim their own visibility. This indicates that from the perspective of the Linguistics of Religion (Liebert 2017), it is worth extending research on conversion narratives to awakening narratives functioning in the field of informal religiousness.


Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (2015): The Globalization of Esotericism. In: Correspondences, 3, 1, 55-91.

James, William (1917): The Varieties of Religious Experience. A Study in Human Nature. Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902. New York, London, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras: Longmans, Green and Co. 28th ed.

Liebert, Wolf-Andreas (2015): Metaphern der Desillusionierung. Die Bereiche Theater, Höhle, Traum, Phantom, Gefängnis, Simulation und Hologramm als Ressource für Blendings. [Metaphors of disillusionment. The domains theatre, cave, dream, phantom, prison, simulation and hologram as a resource for blending] In: Köpcke, Klaus-Michael und Spieß, Constanze (Hg.): Metapher und Metonymie. Theoretische, methodische und empirische Zugänge. Berlin, Boston: de Gruyter. (=Empirische Linguistik / Empirical Linguistics; 1). 111–142.

Liebert, Wolf-Andreas (2017): Religionslinguistik. Theoretische und methodische Grundlagen. [The Linguistics of Religion. Theoretical and methodological foundations.] In: Lasch, Alexander und Liebert, Wolf-Andreas (Hg.): Sprache und Religion. Berlin, Boston: de Gruyter. (=Handbücher Sprachwissen; 18). 7-36.

Luckmann, Thomas (1967): The Invisible Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society. New York: MacMillan.


OpenSkyFilms (2013): Satori – Metamorphose eines Erwachens – Trailer, YouTube: URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzCLqeA0mSE; accessed February 17, 2019. (DVD 2012, English with German subtitles). Tolle, Eckhart (1999): The Power of Now. A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Novato, California: New World Library. Originally published in Canada by Namaste Publishing 1997. (German: Jetzt! Die Kraft der Gegenwart. Bielefeld: Kamphausen. 1

Narratives of awakening. A Linguistics of Religion approach 1

Guest post: Wolf-Andreas Liebert,
Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Koblenz

Conversion or awakening?

Studies seem to show that conversion narratives always follow the same pattern of crisis, extraordinary experience, and a revision of life concepts. We already find that in William James (1917). But what religion means today has radically changed: many people get involved in loose networks via social media, attach importance to individualisation and are sceptical or even hostile towards traditional religions. Thus a religiosity and spirituality have developed that is globally networked but very heterogeneous and informal (cf. Hanegraaff 2015).

Are conversion narratives here still the same as we know them from traditional religious contexts? Or are there no more conversion narratives outside the institutionalized religions?

At first, you might think there are actually none left. In fact, no one speaks of conversion anymore in informal religiousness. What we find instead are expressions like “awakening”, “enlightenment”, “liberation”, “satori” or “samadhi”. These are expressions that can be historically located in traditional religious contexts. “Satori” comes from the Zen Buddhist context, “Samadhi” is found in many traditional Indian religions. Words such as “awakening”, “enlightenment” or “liberation” and their underlying metaphors are also deeply rooted in the Geistesgeschichte (cf. Liebert 2015). In late modern religiousness, these terms are used in many ways, but they are all expressions of a similar personal experience claiming to have experienced at least a glimpse of a truth which goes beyond everyday knowledge. It is connected to a kind of transcendence but not bound to any particular religious concept as in conversion. It may be the feeling of a primordial energy or the appearance of an angel – possibly without referring to any Islamic or Christian context.

Godless Grace

Eckhart Tolle (born as Ulrich Leonard Tolle or Tölle on February 16, 1948) lives in Canada and is the most famous person in the scene of informal religiousness. His books have reached a circulation of over 8 million copies and are translated into more than 30 languages. He is performing globally and maintains Tolle-TV, a webinar platform with over 30 million participants. Therefore, when we analyze his story of awakening, we can assume that it has some influence on others and their formulations of their awakening experiences.

The following excerpt is from his first book The Power of Now which begins with his awakening narrative (Tolle 1999, pp. 1-3). At first glance we may observe the well-known three-part-structure in a nutshell in these few paragraphs:

  1. the life before awakening: crisis (paragraph 1-3)
  2. the turning point: transformation (paragraph 4-5)
  3. the life after awakening: solution, becoming a new person (paragraph 6-12)

So, the basic structure seems to be similar to a classic conversion narrative. Now we can go finding out what’s different focussing on the transformation part (paragraph 4-5):

I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.” I was so stunned by this strange realization that my mind stopped. I was fully conscious, but there were no more thoughts. Then I felt drawn into what seemed like a vortex of energy. It was a slow movement at first and then accelerated. I was gripped by an intense fear, and my body started to shake. I heard the words “resist nothing,” as if spoken inside my chest. I could feel myself being sucked into a void. It felt as if the void was inside myself rather than outside. Suddenly, there was no more fear, and I let myself fall into that void. I have no recollection of what happened after that.

Let us take a brief look to the lexemes in the cited passage. We find pretty abstract concepts as vortex of energy or void and hearing words with no agent. The German translation “Wehre dich nicht” is rather archaic. Semantically, we may describe the transcendental concept involved here as an external force within the person and this force directs the person somehow from within, such that she seems to be in charge and a helpless puppet at the same time. This creates a kind of mysterious and paradoxical situation and atmosphere. It also shows how individual control is lost here to an unknown force, without the author having to speak of God’s intervention or divine grace.

Our publications–Autobiographies of Conversion

It is exciting to see our first set of publications based on the research conducted and presented by the team!

Most of the contributions to this volume were first presented at a workshop held at IIT Delhi in December 2015, entitled “Narratives of Transformation: Language, Conversion, and Indian Traditions of ‘Autobiography.’” Our intention was to situate our study of conversion accounts to Christianity within a broader context in South Asia by including conversion between other religious traditions and historical periods, to give our study historical depth and comparative range across religious cultures. You can read more about the conference here. We also invited presenters from otherconference panels we organised in order to include a wide variety of conversion narratives.

We hope you will click on the links below to read our articles published in South Asia: A Journal of South Asian Studies 41:2 (2018).


For an introduction to the special section see ‘Narratives of Transformation Religious Conversion and Indian Traditions of ‘Life Writing’ by Hephzibah Israel and John Zavos. I’ve listed the rest of the articles individually for ease of access:

Deepra Dandekar, Translation and the Christian Conversion of Women in Colonial India: Rev. Sheshadri and Bala Sundarabai Thakur.

Matthias Frenz, Truth by Narration–Why Autobiographical Conversion Accounts are so Compelling: The Case of H.A. Kaundinya, the First Indian Pastor in the Basel Mission.

Hephzibah Israel, Conversion, Memory and Writing: Remembering and Reforming the Self.

Chloe Martinez, The Autobiographical Pose: Life Narrative and Religious Transformation in the Mirabai Tradition.

Sipra Mukherjee, In Opposition and Allegiance to Hinduism: Exploring the Bengali Matua Hagiography of Harichand Thakur.

Mohinder Singh, ‘A Question of Life and Death’: Conversion, Self and Identity in Swamu Shraddhanand’s Autobiography.

Milind Wakankar, The Crisis of Religion: Christianity and Conversion in the Marathi Nineteenth Century.



Baba Padmanji (1831 – 1906) II: Marathi Writer and Translator

Guest Post

Dr. Deepra Dandekar
Researcher, Center for the History of Emotions
Max Planck Institute for Human Development


Baba Padmanji was a prolific Marathi writer, who espoused women’s education, empowerment, the need for spiritual reform, and Christian conversion in mid-nineteenth century Maharashtra. Educated in convents and influenced by the Scottish Free Church Institution of India, and especially by charismatic Christian reformists such as Rev. Narayan Sheshadri, Padmanji went on to stay in Bombay as a missionary of the Scottish Free Church and became well-known for his vociferous Marathi Christian texts. While Strividyabhyasnibandha (1852) is a prize-winning essay on women’s education, Yamunaparyatan (1857), credited as the first Marathi novel, documents the travails of a Hindu widow, whose true redemption lies in Christian conversion. Apart from this, Padmanji’s treatises include an exposition of heathen licentiousness, Vyabhicharnishedhak Bodh (1854) and translations of Biblical stories: Paharekaryachi Vani (1878) and Jagatshetacha Putra Narnayak (1879). He translated various expositions of the Vedas, such as Vedic Hindudharma (1892) and Hindudharmache Swarup (1901), and produced annotated grammatical treatises and lexicons such as A Compendium of Molesworth’s Marathi and English Dictionary (1863) and Shalopayogi va Gruhopayogi Saunskrut-Marathi Kosh (1891).

Padmanji participated enthusiastically in the flourishing print journalism of the mid-nineteenth century. He contributed to bilingual (Marathi and English) journals such as Dnyanodaya published by the American Mission Press from Bombay.


His autobiographical reminiscences and memoirs, for which he is best known, consist of a detailed documentation of conversion and everyday Christianity among the upper castes in nineteenth-century Maharashtra: Arundodaya (1908 – 2nd edition) and Anubhavasangraha (1904).

Title page of Padmanji’s Marathi autobiography, Arunodaya (1908). Photograph: H. Israel

His intellectual scope was not limited to reformist modernism in the field of religion and conversion alone, since he compared Hindu deities, such as Krishna and Christ in Krushna ani Krista hyanchi Tulana (1867) and published literary criticisms of Bhakti hagiographies, Eknath Charitra Pariksha (1891), in addition to various other documents such as Biblical commentaries. Padmanji’s literary contribution to religion as an emergent field in the Marathi nineteenth-century, was accompanied by his lived witness to experiments with ‘truth’ that were unparalleled in the writing of other Marathi Christian converts of the time.

Baba Padmanji (1831 – 1906): Conversion and Reform

Guest Post

Dr. Deepra Dandekar
Researcher, Center for the History of Emotions
Max Planck Institute for Human Development


Baba Padmanji’s conversion from Hinduism (from the Tvashta Kasar caste) to Christianity in 1854 was tumultuous. Not only was he considered the most prolific among writers of vernacular Christian texts in mid-nineteenth century Maharashtra, but his writings became emblematic for scripting a positive and phantom image of Hindu Brahminical reformist engagement with religious conversion.

Photograph: Hephzibah Israel

I say phantom, because Hindu Brahmins in Maharashtra during the mid-nineteenth century did not engage with Christian conversion in any positive manner, but instead subjected converts to crushing humiliation by deeming them impure, immoral, and divided against family, society and tradition. Padmanji’s performance of positive Brahminical engagement, by projecting Christianity in his vernacular writings and by undertaking favourite Brahminical, reformist tasks like critically translating, editing and interpreting Sanskrit texts, dictionaries and lexicons, demonstrated his desire to be included as Christian within the Marathi, Brahminical reformist public sphere.

He wrote of conversion in his heavily detailed autobiographical narratives Arundodaya (1908, 2nd edition) and Anubhavasangraha (1904) as a reformist, feminist, moral, and a rationalist choice that was steeped in modernity, detailing his journey of seeking one absolute truth through an experimental method that eliminated falsehood. Christian truth for Padmanji, articulated as satya, assumed an all-encompassing status as he denounced licentiousness in the Hindu-Muslim and ‘heathen’ world. His rationalist conversion to Christianity, and his vernacular pejorative scripting of Brahminical reform pertinent to spiritual life adopted the masculinity of colonial modernity, as he expressed a burning desire to save Indian women from heathen violence by converting them. He condemned the abysmal condition of women’s education, and the nature of social corruptions operating against them. Padmanji was himself deeply embroiled in personal anxieties about sin. Unlike Indic Christian piety (Krista Bhakti) and its beautiful emotions expressed by converts such as Narayan Vaman Tilak (early twentieth-century), Padmanji remained immersed in evaluating morality against Christian notions of sin.

Posts on Conversion Accounts

As the project team review the many conversion accounts found in the archives and write our articles, we thought it would be a good idea to write short blog posts on some of the accounts we have found particularly striking. What do these convert-narrators say about themselves, how do they describe their experiences or how to they see themselves relating to the world around them?

We have found that conversion accounts were not merely straightforward autobiographies published as books. There are accounts embedded within letters, obituaries, and as part of applications for ordination as catechists or ministers. Many such accounts written on plain paper, tell us the circumstances under which the convert chose to write their story of transformation. These unpublished narratives, however, have an interesting relationship with print: brief extracts from narratives were often translated and published in nineteenth-century journals for wider circulation. Conversion accounts seem to have gained much visibility from new technologies of communication that were becoming increasingly popular in nineteenth-century India.

So, as much as the story narrated within the conversion account, the project team have been examining the repetition and circulation of accounts through translation and print. Many accounts were translated not only into English or German but into other Indian languages while others remained untranslated. Were only the most dramatic stories or converts considered most exemplary translated and republished? It certainly appears that some conversion stories received much more attention than others while one of the silences we have noticed as a team is the lack of stories from low-caste converts, but more on this in a future blog.

The following posts have been written by either one of the team or by a guest writer who is also contributing to our project publications. So do visit us for posts on individual conversion accounts that follow…

School and College Teaching Resources

Some of the materials collected as part of this project can be used to enhance learning for school and college students taking N5 and Highers qualifications in Religious and Moral Education. 

In particular, these resources are useful for examining the World Religions units within the following courses.  These units are designed to challenge students to interpret and comment on the meaning and context of religious beliefs, practices and sources.

For students studying Christianity as a World Religion, the resources you will find here provide a unique opportunity to interpret and comment on these issues.  They focus on the development of Christian beliefs and practices in the context of India during the 19th Century, when much of the country was under British control.  The resources draw on and showcase primary sources from this time and region – in particular, autobiographical accounts by Indians who became Christian.

The resources respond to the Course Assessment Specification related to ‘Living according to the Gospels’ and the ‘Religious experience of Conversion’ by exploring the ways in which these individuals began to think of themselves as Christian in social situations which were often antagonistic to this personal change, for a number of reasons.  Exploring the resources will enable students to think critically about these issues, challenging them to place their own understandings about Christian beliefs and practices into a different social, cultural and political context.

These teaching resources were developed by Iain Stewart (General Secretary, Edinburgh Interfaith Association) from research and archival work on autobiographies written by Indians converting to Christianity that the project team have been working on.

The materials collected as part of this project are first-hand accounts of the lives and religious practices of Indians in colonial India. While several religious traditions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism, are taught as part of the English RE curriculum, the focus of lessons can often be on key teachings found in scriptures, on religious leaders and religious festivals. But what about the practices of ordinary religious individuals or communities? How do they relate their spiritual experiences? To what extent do they agree with or challenge teachings within their religions? How do they negotiate change in religious life—either personal, that is, moving from one religion to another or social, when they feel religious communities need to change (that is ‘reform’) their practices or attitudes?

The resource materials and lessons show religious lives and identities as fluid and constantly responding to fresh challenges.

Food and Religion

The first theme we have developed lessons for relate to religious and social encounters relating to food and eating.

Why focus on food?

Food practices are central to contemporary ways of being religious and social in multicultural Britain. Food has been a key aspect of minority religious identification as it has developed in Britain over the last 70 years. Social encounters relating to eating practices occur at all levels including schools where food choice operates as a religious identifier, including sometimes as a source of anxiety. Bringing these issues into the classroom is a valuable and safe forum for discussing these sensitive topics.

Food-related discussions in 19th-century autobiographies are presented here as a way of introducing students to the theme of food as a feature of religious identity, ranging from its location as everyday religious to significant ritual practice. Food choice, including whom they ate with, was critical for people navigating changing religious identity during a period of intense religious encounter in 19th-century colonial India. Christian converts express apprehensions regarding eating foods prohibited by Hindu teachings as they perceived food as integral to their changing social status in India.

This first set of lessons focusing on food in religious and social encounters has been developed in collaboration between RE teachers, Nisha Bansal and Paul slater at Trinity Church of England High School (Manchester) and the project team, Dr. Hephzibah Israel (University of Edinburgh) and Dr. John Zavos (University of Manchester). These lessons have been developed keeping the Year 9 curriculum in mind but can be adapted by RE teachers to other years (at least up to GCSE) should they wish to. 

  1. Scheme of Work
  2. Lesson Plans
    1. Lesson 1-What’s wrong with some food
    2. Lesson 2-The Ethics of Food
    3. Lesson 3-You are what you eat
    4. Lesson 4-Clean & Unclean Food
    5. Lesson 5-Is food better when we eat together
    6. Lesson 5 Materials-Menu Ingredient Cards 1
    7. Lesson 5 Materials-Menu Cards 1
    8. Lesson 5 Materials-Menu Ingredient Cards 2
    9. Lesson 5 Materials-Menu Cards 2
  1. Reading from autobiography relating to Lesson 1: Baba Padmanji, Once Hindu, Now Christian

    Photograph by Hephzibah Israel

    1. Summary of Padmanji’s Autobiography
    2. Padmanji Extract 1 (chapter 11)
    3. Visual Resources: these video clips bring Padmanji’s stories to life. Zak Hanif, an actor based in Edinburgh, reads parts of the autobiography.
      1. Chapter 11-The Paramhans Mandali (society)
      2. Further Visual resources from the Autobiography:
        1. Chapter 10-Gradual Change Of Mind
        2. Chapter 13- Gradual Increase Of Light
        3. Chapter 17-Joy And Peace In Believing
  2. Reading from autobiography relating to Lesson 2: Pandita Ramabai, A Testimony
    1. Summary of Ramabai’s life
    2. Extract from Ramabai’s childhood memories
  3. Reading from autobiography relating to Lesson 3: Lakshmibai Tilak's autobiography, I Follow After [Smritichitre]         Lakshmibai Tilak
    1. Summary of Lakshmibai’s Autobiography
    2. Lakshmibai Extract 1: Lakshmi Drinks Water
  4. Reading from autobiography relating to Lesson 4: Lakshmibai Tilak's autobiography, I Follow After [Smritichitre]
    1. Lakshmibai Extract 2: Father washes away his pennies and pounds
    2. Visual resources: these video clips bring Lakshmibai’s stories to life. Annie George, an actor based in Edinburgh (https://anniegeorge.net/), reads parts of the autobiography:
      1. Father Washes Away His Pennies and Pounds
      2. Further Visual resources from the Autobiography
        1. Tilak's diary Reading
        2. A Memorable Occasion

Suggestions for Further Reading

  1. Padma Anagol, The Emergence of Feminism in India, 1850-1920, Routledge, 2006.
  2. Uma Chakravarti, Rewriting History: The Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996, 2014. (https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/R/bo16938611.html)
  3. Deepra Dandekar, Baba Padmanji: Vernacular Christianity in Colonial India, Routledge 2020.
  4. Meera Kosambi,  Pandita Ramabai Through Her Own Words, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000

Online Resources

  1. https://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/makingbritain/content/pandita-ramabai
  2. https://womenshistorynetwork.org/womens-history-month-pandita-ramabai/
  3. https://www.bu.edu/missiology/ramabai-dongre-medhavi/
  4. https://indianculturalforum.in/2022/06/26/lakshmibai-tilak-my-old-friend/
  5. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/archive/book-reviews/woman-who-lived-ahead-of-her-times-516829

More Resources

  1.  Tarosa Project - this site has lots of information about Indian religions. If you are interested in finding out more about caste, look at the 'Village of Bisru' case study on this site, which explores this complicated idea in more detail.

Materials collected as part of this project can be used to enhance learning for school and college students taking N5 and Highers qualifications in Religious and Moral Education following the Scottish Curriculum. 

These resources are particularly useful for examining the World Religions units which are designed to challenge students to interpret and comment on the meaning and context of religious beliefs, practices and sources.

For teachers and students studying Christianity as a World Religion:

The resources you will find here provide a unique opportunity to interpret and comment on key issues.  They focus on the development of Christian beliefs and practices in the context of India during the 19th Century, when much of the country was under British control.  The resources draw on and showcase primary sources from this time and region – in particular, autobiographical accounts by Indians who became Christian—which unusually give students access to Indian rather than British voices.

The resources respond to the Course Assessment Specification related to ‘Living according to the Gospels’ and the ‘Religious experience of Conversion’ by exploring the ways in which these individuals began to think of themselves as Christian in social situations which were often antagonistic to this personal change, for a number of reasons.  Exploring the resources will enable students to think critically about these issues, challenging them to place their own understandings about Christian beliefs and practices into a different social, cultural and political context.

These teaching resources were developed by Iain Stewart (General Secretary, Edinburgh Interfaith Association) from research and archival work that the project team have completed on autobiographies written by Indians converting to Christianity.


National 5/ Highers

CTLA N5 Resources contains a range of resources designed to help you if you are taking the World Religions unit as part of your N5 RME course, and especially if you are focusing on Christianity within this unit. In this section we will introduce you to Lakshmibai Tilak. Lakshmibai was born in 1868 in western India (she died in 1936). At the age of 11 she was married to 18 year old Narayan Waman Tilak. Narayan was to go on to become a well known poet, writing primarily in the Marathi language of western India. Narayan became a Christian in 1895. Although she at first objected, Lakshmibai eventually followed her husband to become a Christian. She wrote about her experiences around this time in her autobiography, which is entitled Smruti Chitre in Marathi, or I Follow After in English. As well as publishing her autobiography, Lakshmibai also wrote and published poetry. She achieved all this despite having no formal education. In this document you will find out much more about Lakshmibai, the contexts within which she lived and her approach to religion. This document also includes some sample questions you can look at to help you to relate this case to other work you have been doing on this unit:

Lesson - Living According to the Gospels

You can find out more about Lakshmibai’s life by looking at our brief biological sketch:

Summary of Lakshmibai's Autobiography

These extracts from Lakshmibai’s autobiography are referred to in the Lesson:

Supplementary Reading 1

Supplementary Reading 2

Supplementary Reading 3

These short videos show passages from Lakshmibai’s autobiography that have been dramatized by an Edinburgh-based theatre artist, Annie George (https://anniegeorge.net/) to help to bring it to life.

Reading 1 - Father Washes Away His Pennies and Pounds

Reading 2-Tilak's diary Reading

Reading 3-A Memorable Occasion

Advanced Highers

The CTLA Higher Resources section contains a range of resources designed to help you if you are taking the World Religions unit as part of your Higher RME course, and especially if you are focusing on Christianity within this unit. In this section we will introduce you to Baba Padmanji. Padmanji was born in western India in 1831 into a Hindu family. From the age of 12 he began attending the local Christian Mission High School. He became increasingly influenced by Christianity from this point on, and eventually he was baptised in 1854. Padmanji went on to become a prominent publicist. He also worked as a teacher and was ordained as a pastor of the Free Church Mission in 1867. His autobiography, published first in Marathi, is called Arunodaya. It was translated into English as Once Hindu, Now Christian. Below you will find some extracts from this autobiography, alongside further resources about Padmanji’s life and times. This document provides detail on the social contexts within which Padmanji lived, and also lists some questions you can work on which are related to specific passages from the autobiography. The sample questions also help you to relate this case to other work you have been doing on this unit:

Lesson-Religions Experience of Conversion

This document is a short summary of some of the major themes of Padmanji’s autobiography:

Summary of Once Hindu

The following documents are chapters of Once Hindu, Now Christian. You will find references to these chapters in the main text on Padmanji’s conversion:

Padmanji-Chapter 10

Padmanji-Chapter 11

Padmanji-Chapter 13

Padmanji-Chapter 17

The following short videos show passages from Padmanji’s autobiography that have been dramatized to help to bring it to life.

Chapter 10-Gradual Change Of Mind

Chapter 11-The Paramhans Mandali (society)

Chapter 13- Gradual Increase Of Light

Chapter 17-Joy And Peace In Believing

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Antony Copley (1994), ‘The conversion experience of India’s Christian Elite in the mid-nineteenth century’, Journal of Religious History 18 (1): 52-74

Robert Frykenberg (2008), Christianity in India: from beginnings to the present. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mitch Numark (2011), ‘Translating Dharma: Scottish Missionary-Orientalists and the politics of religious understanding in nineteenth century Bombay’, Journal of Asian Studies 70 (2): 471-500

Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin & Argyle, Michael (1997) The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief and Experience, Routledge, London. 0 4151 2331 3. Detailed chapter on religious experience, with survey figures etc.

Clark, Patrick J. (1999) Questions about God, A Guide for A/AS Level students, Stanley Thornes, Cheltenham. 0 7487 4340 5. Useful sections on religious experience, conversion and mysticism.

Connolly, Peter (1999) Approaches to the Study of Religion, Cassell, London. 0 304 33710 2. A comprehensive textbook, dealing with psychological and sociological approaches.

Davis, Caroline F. (1999) The Evidential Force of Religious Experience, OUP, Oxford. 0 1982 5001 0. Using contemporary and classic sources from the world religions, she gives an account of different types of religious experience and, drawing extensively on psychological and sociological as well as philosophical literature, deals with sceptical challenges about religious experiences.

Holt, Bradley P. (1997) A Brief History of Christian Spirituality, Lion, Oxford. 0 7459 3721 7 A sympathetic and somewhat superficial survey.

Hood, Ralph W. Jr, et al (1996) The Psychology of Religion – an Empirical Approach, Guildford Press, New York. Reference work.

RMPS: Religious Experience (Advanced Higher) 78 Jordan, Anne et al (1999) Philosophy of Religion for A Level, Stanley Thornes, Cheltenham. 0 7487 4339 1. Useful sections on religious experience and psychology of religion.

King, Ursula (1998) Christian Mystics, B T Batsford, London. 0 7134 8107 2. Focuses on 54 men and women mystics. Beautifully illustrated.

Wulff, David M. (1997) Psychology of Religion, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York. 0 4710 3706 0. Reference work with extensive sections on religious experience, William James, Freud, Jung and many more