Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Harvard University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Harvard University
The Baboo, the Bibi and the “Padri Sahib”: Christianity, Colonialism and the Creative World of Indian Intellectuals, c. 1813-1907

My dissertation examines Indian intellectuals' encounters with and response to Christianity in the nineteenth century – a relationship broadly unexplored in the existing historical literature, and critical, I assert, to India's putatively secular modernity. The Baboo and the Bibi of my title are the westernized Indian intellectuals, male and female, whose role as intermediaries in colonial India has been thoroughly investigated. Less examined, however, is the significance of their encounters with the "Padri Sahibs" – the white missionaries. Their proselytizing was the subject of debate, ridicule, but just as frequently, evoked serious engagement on the part of India's burgeoning intelligentsia. The men and women who had direct access to Western modes of education, owing to their proximity to colonial agents and evangelicals in the metropolitan centers of Calcutta, Bombay, and Delhi, played a decisive role in the creation of an Indian public sphere. In the way that Christianity was approached, examined and theorized by a spectrum of Indian intellectuals, from Ram Mohan Roy to Brahmabandhab Upadhyay over the course of the nineteenth century, I see the development of a complex relationship of both overt repudiation and covert fascination. I intend to investigate how their extensive examination of Christianity, as a faith and a choice, represents not only a philosophical engagement, but a sustained set of contestations over the nature of faith's sociopolitical implications, and of the political responsibility of the colonized subject. The paradox of Christianity as the catalyst of the modernization impulse in India, and its change over the nineteenth century into a potentially conservative force, privileging the colonizer, provides a rich tension to this narrative.