Old Wine in New Bottles? Kartabhaja (Vaishnava) Converts to Evangelical Christianity in Bengal, 1835–1845

G. A. Oddie


Of special relevance in what follows are three of [anthropologist Robin] Horton's more general and interrelated points - ideas and assumptions which have influenced much of our discussion of Kartabhaja conversion. Firstly, Horton joins with many other scholars in calling for a return to 'the intellectualist approach', an approach 'which takes systems of belief at their face value, i. e. as theoretical systems intended for the explanation, prediction and control of space-time events'. Secondly … he underlines the role of reason and endorses Weber's concept of 'rationalization'. … Thirdly, when discussing ways in which 'rationalization' or change takes place, Horton stresses the importance of continuities and links between old and new systems of belief. 

However, apart from the latter somewhat restricted investigation, there has been no serious study of the role of pre-conversion ideas in the rise and growth of Christian group or mass movements which originated within the framework of Hindu caste society. How important were religious ideas or assumptions in these movements? How far did pre-existing beliefs and attitudes either inhibit or facilitate the conversion process? What parallels were there in Hindu and Christian thought and how important were these parallels in conversion? This paper is an attempt to explore these issues with reference to Kartabhaja conversion in the first half of the nineteenth century.

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