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Zene, Cosimo (1994) Mission - conversion - dialogue: The Christianisation process of the Rishi in South-West Bangladesh. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis is a study of the changing relationship over time (1856-1990) between the Rishi, an ex-Untouchable jati of Bengal/South-West Bangladesh, and various groups of Catholic missionaries. The material consists of intensive ethnographic fieldwork among Hindu and Christian Rishi, as well as research into historical sources on missionary presence. The new approach to mission initiated by Vatican II (1962-65) is contrasted with the phenomenology of dialogue as this occurs in the field. A common ground is established between this stance and recent anthropological theory intent on solving authorial crisis by adopting 'dialogic' styles. It is argued that the mere adoption of a dialogic genre does not provide a solution for textual authority in anthropology, nor does it solve the missionary impasse. The radicality of dialogue as an ethical involvement rather than a means to an end (either 'conversion' or epistemological certainty) or as a methodological tool, is further analysed through the tensions inherent in the 'translation' of the Christian message. The misunderstandings this generates and the variety of missionary positions vis-a-vis the Rishi and the wider society constitute the 'topoi' of multiple dialogues. The Rishis' experience of 'Untouchability' and their struggle for humanity expose the shortcomings of a missionary self and the possible hidden intentionalities of anthropological enquiry. The field situation of the missionary and the ethnographer alike provide a testing ground for theories of dialogue in modern philosophy. It is argued that it is principally in the Levinasian 'proximity to alterity' and the Gramscian concept of 'counter-hegemony' that dialogue becomes ethically and politically demanding, and that social anthropology, as a discipline interested in human dialogue and its tensions, cannot fulfil its vocation without making an ethico-political commitment.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:16

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