June 17–July 3, 2015
Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi
Rebecca Samuel Shah
Timothy Samuel Shah
Robert D. Woodberry
National University of Singapore
The Nagel Institute conducted a two-week intensive seminar in India on the drivers and consequences of economic and social change in India. To better understand the relationship between social change and economic development, this seminar enlisted ten professors from North American liberal arts colleges and universities and ten Indians of similar vocation, selected by a panel of experts. The seminar included field visits and interviews with leading Indian scholars and practitioners who provided a framework to understand the dynamics of economic development.
The relationship between Christianity and economic empowerment was the original topic of the seminar, but as the planning unfolded, it became clear that two additional topics would compel our attention too: 1) the dynamics of conversionary Christianity in a religiously plural nation, and 2) the role of both imperial and religious history in framing the contemporary situation in India. These three topics were on the table at each of our three venues: Bangalore, Chennai, and Delhi. Yet each of these cities also allowed us to concentrate on one the themes:
- In Bangalore we focused on religious beliefs, values, and practices and the well-being of the poor.
- In Chennai we focused on missions, conversions, and their role in building modern India.
- In Delhi our focus was on religious freedom in a religiously plural and contested society.
The follow-up phase of the seminar is underway, with each participant writing to contribute a publishable essay to be included as a chapter of an edited book or a special edition of a journal. Team members rose to the occasion and proposed works that enlist their prior Lidainterests and skills in the collective quest of making sense of Christianity’s role in India. The people met and the situations and institutions encountered brought remarkable nuance, texture and complexity to the story. Even for those on the team who were Indian or who focused on India in their teaching and scholarship, there were connections they had not made before and circumstances they had not encountered. We all left feeling the truth of what Ashis Nandy had told us: “Nothing can be said about India which cannot be refuted by someone else.” It brought to mind the old Indian story about the blind men’s encounter with the elephant. Yet we have hope that each of our explorations will contribute to a larger understanding, and that in the end we will be able to see it.