Alexandra Kaloyanides: "Objects of Conversion, Relics of Resistance"
"Objects of Conversion, Relics of Resistance: Religious Transformation at the Nineteenth-Century American Baptist Mission to Burma"
The story of the American Baptist mission to Burma is a story of conversion—both failed and sweeping. The Burmese energetically resisted Christian efforts throughout the nineteenth-century and instead promoted Buddhism as their primary source of national sovereignty. Lavish reproductions of Buddhist texts and prominent pagoda construction projects fortified Buddhist identity through the country, but not strongly enough to keep minority communities from converting to Christianity in large numbers. And between the Baptist mission’s establishment in 1813 and the British colonization in 1886, American Christianity was itself changed in Burma. Evangelists who had sailed to Asia admonishing idolatry, found themselves creating tree shrines and their converts worshiping elaborately adorned Bibles. These seemingly eccentric objects turn out to be at the center of this story of conversion. To understand how Burmese Buddhists resisted Christianity, how minority communities baptized so many new Christians, and how Protestantism transformed into a kind of Southeast Asian religion, this presentation looks to the sacred materials these communities used to redefine themselves. These objects of conversion and relics of resistance prove to be key pieces of the little-known history of religious transformation in early modern Burma.
Alexandra Kaloyanides is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University. She researches Burmese religions and American religious history. Her book manuscript, “Objects of Conversion, Relics of Resistance,” examines the religious contestations, conversions, and transformations during the nineteenth-century American Baptist mission to Burma.