Accepted paper:

Motifs and aesthetics of Christian conversion among the Naga of northeast India


Vibha Joshi (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Taking into account that the Naga peoples of northeast India are now predominantly Christian, the paper will explore what conversion to another religion entails in terms of material cultural aesthetics.

Paper long abstract:

The Naga peoples of northeast India are now predominantly Christian, with a small percentage continuing to resist conversion. The paper explores how Naga conversion to another religion affects their aesthetics of material culture. Using evidence from 19th century museum collections, archives and contemporary ethnographic fieldwork, the paper shows how new converts abandoned customary sartorial rules relating to animism. Among the Sumi, for example, early Christian converts started to wear status cloths without carrying out the associated rituals. At the same time the new converts were caught between the disagreements among British colonial officers and American Baptist Missionaries as to what were appropriate clothes and accessories for particular occasions and activities. Recently however, alongside old cloth designs signifying national identity, new cloths commemorating Christianity have been designed which include motifs representative of animistic and warrior past. The two kinds of cloths and designs are a representative play on the relationship between Christianity and nationalism.

panel P05
Aesthetics of conversion