Beyond Conversions
John Thomas
GODROADS: MODALITIES OF CONVERSION IN INDIA by Peter Berger and Sarbeswar Sahoo Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2020, 306 pp., 649.00
April 2021, volume 45, No 4

As religious conversions come to be criminalized across India and alleged to be a threat to the ‘integrity’ of the nation-state, this edited volume is an important and timely contribution, enriching the existing scholarship on conversions as well as unsettling some of the taken-for-granted notions about conversions. Penned by scholars situated across disciplines, generations and intellectual traditions, working on different regions of the Indian subcontinent, it is rich in historical and ethnographic details, addressing the phenomenon of religious conversions in multiple registers.

The detailed introduction to the volume lays out the conceptual terrain. It highlights some of the important discussions that have surfaced in existing scholarship on religious conversions, such as questions related to motivations for conversion, and the extent to which conversions entailed continuity as much as change, gradual processes as much as spontaneous events. While the essays engage with these questions at various levels, the editors wonder if ‘conversion’ itself is a useful term given the multi-layered processes and events that it entails, and if it would be better to think in terms of a travel down the Godroads, a metaphor that equates religious conversion to a journey, on the road, covering various destinations, and ridden with particular experiences, encounters and longings. Godroads encompasses changes as well as continuities, events as well as processes, and uncertainties as well as the resoluteness.

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