Roberts, “Is Conversion a ‘Colonization of Consciousnesss’?”

January 18, 2013

Roberts, Nathaniel. 2012. Is Conversion a ‘Colonization of Consciousness’? Anthropological Theory 12(3):271-294.

Abstract: The trope in which conversion – especially of non-Western people to Christianity – is envisioned as a type of conquest is one many scholars have found compelling. This article examines the implicit moral psychology behind the idea that conversion is a ‘colonization of consciousness’, which it identifies as rooted in a secular liberal model of the self and of religion. The appeal of the conversion-as-conquest trope lies in its focus on power, but by building secular liberal assumptions into its theoretical optic it remains ironically blind to some of the most pervasive ways power operates today – namely, through the production of secular truths about religion, and by authorizing ‘autonomous’ secular subjectivities as normative. Drawing on examples from the author’s research on Pentecostal conversion in Indian slums, and on a national context where violent anti-conversion activism is prevalent, the article argues that while both conversion and opposition to it entail power, this power is not well understood on the model of mental colonization, or ‘resistance’ by uncolonized subjectivities.

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