The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Book calls for 'religious disarmament' on conversions

New Delhi, June 18 : Religious conversion is a complex and emotionally charged issue but fundamentalists of all hues exploit it, liberals confuse it and many do not comprehend what the fuss is about, says a new book.

Written by an unlikely author, the Catholic Jesuit priest-sociologist Rudolf C. Heredia, "Changing Gods: Rethinking Conversion in India" highlights how mass conversions have alienated people from their past traditions and "lived beliefs".

Heredia is editor of the journal "Social Action" at the Indian Social Institute in New Delhi and has long worked with marginalised communities.

Heredia told IANS: "I am reluctant to sum up three years' work in a sound bite. Perhaps the original title I had chosen 'religious disarmament' says more than just the two words."

This book challenges the "traditional orthodoxies" which promote or oppose religious conversions. Heredia argues that there is "no religious merit in political posturing or conversion for socio-economic gain".

His book portrays how forced conversions have weakened Indian society by dissociating people from their traditions and beliefs. Heredia traces the history of conversion in India and the changes that it wrought in the lives of people, especially tribals and Dalits.

In most cases, he says, conversions fail to alter people's devotion to so-called pagan gods and goddesses but involves them instead in the "politics of hate".

"While religious commitment is essentially a matter of personal conscience and choice, it inevitably impacts other levels of individual and social life," argues the 400-page book. Published by Penguin India, the 400-page paperback book is priced at Rs.350.

To defuse tensions over an issue that has raked up a lot of passion in contemporary India, the author advocates rethinking religious conversions in India with "determined religious disarmament and discarding aggression".

In today's multi-religious society, change of faith can precipitate religious antagonism, or it can facilitate social diversity and tolerance, Heredia argues.

He says that while he remains anchored firmly to his Catholic faith, he is seeking common ground for tolerance and dialogue, premised on a "constructive interaction with other faith traditions."

--- IANS

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