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Conversion as a Thematic Site: Academic Representations of Ambedkar’s Buddhist Turn

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Many scholars have written on the conversion of Bhimrao Ambedkar from Hinduism to Buddhism, trying to explain it. In this paper, I argue that a hermeneutics of conversion is needed to understand what this transition means in the larger academic community. Through using the concept of the ‘thematic site’, a narrative trope that draws on the Lacanian idea of the ‘point de capiton’ (also known as the ‘nodal point’ or ‘quilting point’), to investigate how the invisible is evoked in the visible of these scholarly accounts of Ambedkar’s Buddhism, this paper argues that academic accounts of this conversion rearticulate colonial dichotomies of modern/traditional, mapping them onto the binary of West/East. That is, by tracing common academic representations of Ambedkar’s conversion, this paper posits that there is an obfuscated relation that is articulated in the depiction of this event, a connection that invisibly connects Ambedkar’s act to colonial constructions of knowledge.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Mount Royal University Calgary, Alberta, Canada T3E 6K6, Email:


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