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"Mass Movements" In South India, 1877–1936

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Chapter Summary

This chapter compares mass conversion movements in south India on either side of a particularly significant juncture in Indian history through a reading of newspaper accounts of them from 1878 and 1936. The mass conversions that took place in the wake of the famine of 1877 involved, among other things, the reformation of communities around new leaders and patrons both secular and sacred. The Madras Mail, one of the most influential English-language newspapers of colonial India, provided extensive coverage of the 1877 famine and its aftermath. The chapter briefly examines popular response to diverse campaigns as reflected in a series of letters published by The Hindu. These reveal a fierce struggle over the definition of religion, and thus of conversion, as many expressed their conviction that "faith" and "belief " had a sui generis nature that was distinguishable from pragmatic, political and economic concerns.

Keywords: Madras Mail; mass conversion movements; newspapers; south India; The Hindu



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