March 2024

5:30 PM IST

Online Via Zoom


The Love Tub of Duff: Christianity, Conversion and the Law in Colonial Calcutta

Seminar and Lecture Series
Mou Banerjee | Speaker at Ahmedabad University

Mou Banerjee

Assistant Professor of History
University of Wisconsin–Madison

“The Love Tub of Duff: Christianity, Conversion and the Law in Colonial Calcutta” examines the growing unease in Calcutta’s Hindu elite society over the power of the Christian missionary as teacher, using his moral authority to encourage conversion among young high-caste Indian schoolboys. In Bengal, parents increasingly found it necessary to send their sons to missionary-run schools to learn English, the new language of enlightenment and social mobility. However, they feared that missionary preceptors would also use English to teach the precepts of the Bible and encourage schoolboys to accept Christianity. A series of high-profile conversions between 1830 and 1865, by high-caste Hindu youth, fueled these fears into an inferno of Bengali anger and dissent. The tussle between Bengali Hindu parents and Christian missionaries regarding the souls of schoolboys, culminated in a series of Habeas Corpus cases in the Calcutta courts. These cases hinged on questions of self-determination, and specifically the question of when a young Bengali boy was old enough to conscientiously choose to convert to Christianity. Religious apologetics spilled over into the domain of Anglo-Indian law in Bengal at the Calcutta Supreme Court, and resulted in a definitive change of legal opinion on the age of discretion and maturity in India, as well as the question of parental rights to education and custodial control of young children.

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Mou Banerjee

Mou Banerjee is Assistant Professor of History at UW–Madison. She holds a M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Harvard University. She is a historian of modern South Asia, specialising in the period from 18th to the 20th century. Her research interests include religion and politics in India, especially on the evolution of the concepts of private faith and political identity in the public sphere. Her first book, The Disinherited: Christianity and Conversion in Colonial India, 1813-1907 is forthcoming from Harvard University Press.