Sunday, July 14, 2019

Religious Freedom and the Limits of Propagation: Conversion in the Constituent Assembly of India

Article: link (PDF)
Religious Freedom and the Limits of Propagation: Conversion in the Constituent Assembly of India
Sarah Claerhout and Jakob De Roover


In discussions about religious freedom in India, the country’s conflict regarding conversion plays a central role. The Constitution’s freedom of religion clause, Article 25, grants the right “freely to profess, practise and propagate religion,” but this has generated a dispute about the meaning of the right ‘to propagate’ and its relation to the freedom to convert. The recognition of this right is said to be the result of a key debate in the Constituent Assembly of India. To find out which ideas and arguments gave shape to this debate and the resulting religious freedom clause, we turn to the Assembly’s deliberations and come to a surprising conclusion: indeed, there was disagreement about conversion among the Assembly members, but this never took the form of a debate. Instead, there was a disconnect between the member’s concerns, objections, and comments concerning the draft article on the one hand, and the Assembly’s decision about the religious freedom clause on the other. If a key ‘debate’ took this form, what then could the ongoing dispute concerning conversion in India be about? We first examine some recent historiographical accounts of the Indian conflicts about conversion and proselytization. Then we develop a hypothesis that aims to make sense of this enduring conflict by identifying a blindness at its core: people reasoning against the background of Indian traditions see ‘propagation of religion’ as the human dissemination of tradition; this is incompatible with a religious conception where conversion and propagation of faith are seen in terms of God’s intervention. These two ways of seeing ‘propagation’ generate two conflicting experiences of the Indian dispute about religious freedom and conversion.


If for nothing else,  the glimpses of actual debates in the Indian Constituent Assembly are a reason to read this paper.