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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

Abstract

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

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Received: 2015-03-02

Accepted: 2015-04-02

Published Online: 2015-06-03


Citation Information: Open Theology. Volume 1, Issue 1, ISSN (Online) 2300-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2015-0006, June 2015

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

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