Dr. Neena Mahadev, 2015-2017
Neena Mahadev is an assistant professor at Yale-NUS College, Singapore. She was a Research Fellow at MPI-MMG, where she prepared her book manuscript, “Rivalry and Political Cosmology: The Buddhist-Christian Conversion Debates in Millennial Sri Lanka”, for publication. This study is based upon 24 months of fieldwork in Sri Lanka in 2009-2011, generously supported by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. The ethnography offers a situated look at Christian conversion and Buddhist anti-conversion measures. Being dually situated among Sri Lankan Christians and Buddhists, the project sheds new light on pressing debates over secularism and religious freedom. The study reflects the profound implications of inter-religious tensions for post-war Sri Lanka, and for a globalizing world more generally. Through attention to the quotidian theological repertoires and discourses about conversion, the study examines how different communities construct views on the ethics of religious attraction. It accounts for denominational and sectarian logics at work in these conflicts, and tracks debates between: (1) Buddhists and evangelical Christians; (2) Catholics and Pentecostals; (3) evangelists and ecumenical leaders of inter-religious dialogue; and (4) Buddhist authorities who condemn new Buddhist movements as heretical, even as they soar in popularity. At the same time, the ethnography considers conciliatory work carried out through ecumenical institutions, political diplomacy, and through everyday strivings to live alongside religious others despite haunting concerns over difference.