ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Religious Translations and the Reinvention of the Translator in South Asia


Jones Arun - Emory University, School of Theology, Atlanta, United States


20 – Self-translation, translating the self: Multilingual writers in South Asia


 The Christian tradition has, since its beginnings in Palestine, been a religion of translation across linguistic and cultural boundaries. This translation has been a primary means of spreading the religion, as well as rendering it highly pluralistic in cultural terms. In South Asia, Christianity has been translated through texts, art, and cultural and liturgical practices, first in the coastal regions of South India and then in the rest of the subcontinent. Almost all studies of Christian translation have focused on the ways in which the faith has been adapted and adopted through translation. This paper focuses, instead, on the effects of translation on translators from South Asia.  It argues that translation can instigate significant change in the identity of the translators, as they immerse themselves in new linguistic and cultural worlds. The paper will examine the work of a Marathi reformer, Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922), who in 1887 visited the United States and published The High-Caste Hindu Woman, her first book in English, a newly acquired language for her.  All her previous publications had been in Marathi.  She had also been recently baptized into the Christian faith.  The paper will look at how Ramabai used English to attract sympathy and financing from activist American Christian women for her reforming work in India, and how the extremely positive reception of her book directed her into new modes of social and religious reform upon her return to India.