Is it ‘Intolerant’ to ‘Convert’ Other People? Revisiting a vexed debate in Hindu–Christian dialogue

Location: Lecture Room 1, Oriental Institute
Speaker: Dr. Ankur Barua
Date: May 21, 2015
Time: 5:00pm to 6:30pm

A recurring theme in Hindu and Christian conversations over the last hundred years or so is the ‘intolerance’ of the very attempt to produce conviction in other people to move across religious boundaries. I argue that an examination of these conversations reveals that crucial terms such as ‘tolerance’, ‘conversion’, and others are often not carefully defined, so that these encounters have become a dialogue of the deaf. However, when these terms are located in the distinctive Hindu and Christian theological universes, it becomes clear that the necessity or the impossibility of conversions is related to deep metaphysical disputes over what, in fact, is the true Religion. Therefore, from a philosophical perspective, the real debate lies not only over the political structures of ‘toleration’ but also over the epistemic reach of reason to settle the most famous (and lamentably blood-splattered) question in the entire religious history of humanity: what is, in truth, the nature of the divine?

Dr Ankur Barua is Lecturer in Hindu Studies, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. He was raised by a Roman Catholic aunt and Vaishnavite Hindu parents, and the question of ‘conversion’ across Hindu-Christian theological boundaries has remained a matter of deep existential concern, and, of course, a central focus of much of his published work. His articles have appeared in the International Journal of Hindu Studies, Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies, Journal of Hindu Studies, The Heythrop Journal, The Journal of Ecumenical Studies, and Sophia.