Monday, August 06, 2007

Changing Gods

Rethinking Conversion in India, by Fr. Rudi Heredia SJ. Spotted this title at The Bookworm in Connaught Place today. The author is an old friend, one of the fixtures at (and the founder of) the Social Science Center at my alma mater in Bombay, and a lefty-Jesuit of classic vintage, if I may be so bold. The few SJs at college who knew about my interest in Christianity were most bemused. Rudi, the least so, though, as he is quick to observe, he can't (and wouldn't) take any credit. It's been ages since I've gabbed with him (I had no idea he had a new book out!), so, after purchasing the volume, I gave him a buzz at his office at the Indian Social Institute at Jawaharlal Nehru Univ. He's going to be in Bombay starting next week, so we may catch up then. Now I have an email with at least a dozen reviews of his book. I won't touch those until I've gone through the book itself, which promises to be an interesting read.
To begin, then, with myself, as a Catholic priest I must be sensitive to the exclusiveness of some specifics of Christian beliefs. I am aware that these could come in the way, and so must be bracketed before entering this common ground for a mutual encounter. I hope to then come back to my own faith to reinterpret it in new and more critical ways and perhaps even make an unanticipated breakthrough [Sorry. I cannot resist noting that anticipating an unanticipated breakthrough is well, um, contradictory :)], a real conversion to a broader inclusiveness, which may well be an even deeper and more comprehensive faith. (From the Preface)
Well, he asked for my thoughts on the book. He'll be getting them, for sure. :)

Rudi's a sociologist, and the prose is, well, very redolent of post-colonial post-modern stuff. Two chapters that I'm absolutely looking forward to: The Past from our Present, which goes into the history of religious conversion (Hindu, Islamic, Christian) in India, and Personal Journeys, which trace the stories of four "conversions" -- Ambedkar, Gandhi, Pandita Ramabai and Sister Nivedita.

Conversion is an inflammatory and fractious topic in India, in ways that Americans and other Westerners can barely appreciate. I'm sure Rudi's views will be thought-provoking, and educational.

1 comment:

PixelChick said...

Leaving aside the politics of conversion, it interests me from an individual perspective. What do you do with memories, or dreams that might feature your older gods? Especially if it's a more intellectual sort of conversion as opposed to a stand against ills in your ex-faith.

And I'm surprised Gandhi is included in this list. From his Experiments with Truth, it was clear he said he considered Jesus a great teacher, no more a son of God than any one of is a son or daughter of God. Which more than a few Hindus would agree with, as long as you didn't dispossess them of their posse of Gods. Ramabai's case was quite interesting, I'd love to read her autobiography first hand.