Accepted paper:

Aberration as the Norm: Conversion and issues of Representation in Nineteenth Century Bengal


Dhrupadi Chattopadhyay (Heidelberg University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper attempts to show how the biographies and autobiographies of first generation converts in nineteenth century Bengal in effect came to create normative individuals in a climate of 'representational excess' where they were often viewed as 'aberrations'.

Paper long abstract:

Christianity arrived at the shores of Bengal with its colonizing masters and since then it has always been a 'natural' suspect. Nineteenth century with its premium on print had given birth to a new and powerful voice of dissent in the form of the satire. This new form,which heavily relied on 'aberration' for humour, in its myriad forms established Christianity as an undesired departure. These representations in the climate of political excess constantly reproduced itself. Subsequently, in the literary marketplace of the day 'the onslaught of Christianity' was debated and consumed relentlessly. This 'representational excess' was largely incommensurate with the actual number of conversions. This paper will seek to examine a few autobiographies and biographies of first generation converts in nineteenth century Bengal in this context-sensitive inter-texual realm. How do these tellings and retellings respond to the construct of the 'Christian convert' as the 'aberration'? In their response in the form of biographies and autobiographies do the converts instead create a narrative that gives a normative character to the Christian neophyte? Most importantly does this 'representational excess' in effect create a dialogue between two apparently disjointed forms of the satire and the biography/autobiography?

panel P05
Aesthetics of conversion