Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
In This Section

Open Theology

Editor-in-Chief: Taliaferro, Charles

1 Issue per year

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
In This Section

The Violence of Conversion: Proselytization and Interreligious Controversy in the Work of Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Chad M. Bauman
  • Butler University
Published Online: 2015-06-03 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2015-0006


Critics of Christianity in India have frequently accused Christianity of being a predatory, imperialistic religion with absolutist tendencies, and have framed Christian evangelism as an aggressive, uncouth act. More recently, however, and in an idiom that resonates with many contemporary Indians, Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1930-) has made the more controversial claim that the attempt to convert another person is itself an act of violence. In three parts, the paper 1) describes Dayananda’s claims, while bringing them into conversation with the arguments of earlier critics of Christianity (e.g., Mahatma Gandhi, Sita Ram Goel, Ashok Chowgule, Arun Shourie), 2) analyzes and critique Dayananda’s use of the term “violence,” and 3) demonstrate how the claim that conversion is an act of violence blurs somewhat easily into a justification of acts of violence against those who attempt to convert others. In the end, I argue that whether Dayananda’s claim that proselytization is a form of violence makes sense depends not only on one’s definition of “violence,” but also on one’s definition of “religion.”

Keywords: Hindu-Christian; Conversion; Proselytization; Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1930-); Violence; Gandhi; India; Missionaries; Evangelism; Attacks


  • Aaron, Sushil. Christianity and Political Conflict in India: The Case of Gujarat. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, 2002.

  • Asad, Talal. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

  • Balagangadhara, S. N. The “Heathen in His Blindness...”: Asia, the West and the Dynamic of Religion. New York City: Brill Academic Publishers, 1994.

  • Bauman, Chad. Christian Identity and Dalit Religion in Hindu India, 1868-1947. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishers, 2008.

  • ________. “Does the Divine Physician Have an Unfair Advantage? The Politics of Conversion in Twentieth-Century India.” In Asia in the Making of Christianity: Agency, Conversion, and Indigeneity, edited by Jonathan Seitz and Richard Fox Young, 297-321. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

  • ________. Pentecostals, Proselytization, and anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

  • Bayly, C. A. “The Pre-History of ‘Communalism’? Religious Conflict in India, 1700-1860.” Modern Asian Studies 19, no. 2 (1985): 177-203.

  • Cavanaugh, William T. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. New York: Oxford Universisty Press, 2009.

  • Chowgule, Ashok. Christianity in India: The Hindutva Perspective. Mumbai, Hindu Vivek Kendra, 1999.

  • Corrigan, John, and Lynn S. Neal, eds. Religious Intolerance in America: A Documentary History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

  • Dayananda, Swami. “Conversion is Violence.” keynote address at the seminar on “Violence to Hindu Heritage” organized by The Citizen’s Committee for Dharma Rakshana Sammelan, Chennai, 1999.

  • Dayananda, Swami “Conversion is an Act of Violence.” Hinduism Today (Web Edition), November 1999. Available at http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=4308, accessed 11 July 2011.

  • Fitzgerald, Timothy. The Ideology of Religious Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

  • Fletcher, Richard. The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

  • Frykenberg, Robert Eric. “Introduction: Dealing with Contested Definitions and Controversial Perspectives.” In Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-Cultural Communication since 1500, edited by Robert Eric Frykenberg, 1-32. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2003.

  • Galtung, J. “Violence, Peace and Peace Research.” Journal of Peace Research 6, no. 3 (1969): 167-91. [Crossref]

  • Galtung, Johan. “Cultural Violence.” Journal of Peace Research 27, no. 3 (2013): 291-305. [Crossref]

  • Garver, N. “What Violence Is.” In Philosophy for a New Generation, edited by A. K. Bierman and J. A. Gould. New York Macmillan, 1973.

  • Harper, Susan Billington. In the Shadow of the Mahatma: Bishop V. S. Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2000.

  • Jaffrelot, Christophe. “Militant Hindus and the Conversion Issue (1885-1990): From Shuddhi to Dharm Parivartan: The Politicization and Diffusion of an ‘Invention of Tradition’.” In The Resources of History: Tradition and Narration in South Asia, edited by J. Assayag, 127-52. Paris: EFEO, 1990.

  • Jaffrelot, Christopher, ed. Hindu Nationalism: A Reader. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

  • Jones, Kenneth W. “Politicized Hinduism: The Ideology and Program of the Hindu Mahasabha.” In Religion in Modern India, edited by Robert D. Baird, 447-80. Delhi: Manohar, 1981.

  • Joshi, Sanjay. Fractured Modernity: Making of a Middle Class in Colonial North India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001.

  • Kanungo, Pralay. “The Navigators of Hindu Rashtra: The RSS Pracharaks.” In Assertive Religious Identities, edited by Satish Saberwal and Mushirul Hasan, 233-54. New Delhi: Manohar, 2006.

  • Kim, Sebastian C. H. In Search of Identity: Debates on Religious Conversion in India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

  • Kreider, Alan. “Violence and Mission in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries: Lessons for Today.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 31, no. 3 (2007): 125-33.

  • Kremmer, Janki Bahadur. “Haunted by the Holy Ghost.” In John Paul II Revisits India, edited by Fr. Dominic Emmanuel, 177-81. Indore: Satprakashan, 2000.

  • Krug, E. G., L. L. Dahlberg, J. Mercy, A. B. Zwi, and R. Lozano. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2002.

  • Locklin, Reid B. “Sanskritization, (Re-)Conversion, Conquest?: Redescribing Hindu Missions in Contemporary India and North America.” Public address given on 12 May 2011 at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, 2011.

  • Manshardt, Clifford, ed. The Mahatma and the Missionary: Selected Writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1949.

  • Masuzawa, Tomoko. The Invention of World Religions, Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

  • Meadowcroft, Keith. “The All-India Hindu Mahasabha, Untouchable Politics, and ‘Denationalising’ Conversions: The Moonje-Ambedkar Pact.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 29, no. 1 (2006): 9-41.

  • Mider, Daniel. “The Anatomy of Violence: A Study of the Literature.” Aggression and Violent Behavior 18, (2013): 702-08. [Crossref] [Web of Science]

  • Pickett, J. W. Christian Mass Movements in India. New York: Abingdon Press, 1933.

  • Pickett, J. W., A. L. Warnshuis, G. H. Singh, and D. A. McGavran. Church Growth and Group Conversion. Lucknow, India: Lucknow Publishing House, 1956.

  • Queen, Christopher S. “Dr. Ambedkar and the Hermeneutics of Buddhist Liberation.” In Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia, edited by Christopher S. Queen and Sallie B. King, 45-72. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

  • Rai, Lala Lajpat. “The Depressed Classes.” Modern Review, July 1909.

  • Roberts, Nathaniel. “Anti-conversion Law in a Secular State: Religious Difference and the Threat to ‘Public Order’.” Paper presented at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religion and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, 22 February 2011.

  • ________. “Is Conversion a ‘Colonization of Consciousness?’.” Anthropological Theory 12, no. 3 (2013): 272-94. [Web of Science]

  • ________. I Am Myself: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016.

  • Sarkar, Sumit. “Conversion and Politics of Hindu Right.” Economic and Political Weekly, 26 June 1999, 1691-700.

  • Shraddhananda, Swami. Hindu Sangathan: Saviour of the Dying Race. Delhi: Arjun Press, 1926.

  • Smith, Jonathan Z. Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

  • Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. The Meaning and End of Religion: A New Approach to the Religious Traditions of Mankind. New York: Macmillan, 1963.

  • The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Electronic Book), New Delhi, Publications Division Government of India, 1999, 98 volumes. Available online at http://www.gandhiserve.org/e/cwmg/cwmg.htm, accessed October 8, 2014.

  • Tolan, Patrick. “Understanding Violence.” In The Cambridge Handbook of Violent Behavior and Aggression, edited by Daniel J. Flannery, Alexander T. Vazsonyi and Irwin D. Waldman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

  • Walter, E. V. Terror and Resistance: A Study of Political Violence with Case Studies of Some Primitive African Communities. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

  • Zavos, John. “Conversion and the Assertive Margins.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 24, no. 2 (2001): 73-89.

  • Žižek, Slavoj. Violence. New York: Picador, 2008.

About the article

Received: 2015-03-02

Accepted: 2015-04-02

Published Online: 2015-06-03

Citation Information: Open Theology, ISSN (Online) 2300-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2015-0006. Export Citation

©2015 Chad M. Bauman. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in