Martin Ramstedt

Religious Proselytization of Indigenous Peoples

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Religious proselytization, Indigenous peoples, Residential schools for indigenous children, Cultural genocide.

The main argument of this paper is that religious proselytization of indigenous peoples has been a longstanding state-authorized practice of cultural assimilation in classical settler countries, colonial territories, and postcolonial societies alike. State-authorized religious proselytization of indigenous peoples can be seen as integral to processes of state formation and nation building in all the respective societies. In itself, it always constitutes cultural genocide and commonly complements other acts of cultural genocide that can be summed up under the heading of ‘forced modernization’. While state-authorized proselytization of indigenous peoples is invariably informed by a classification of indigenous peoples as ‘primitive’, ‘backward’, and ‘in need of civilization’, settler countries and colonial societies usually differ from postcolonial states in that they focus on racial and racist distinctions between the white settler or colonial society, on the one hand, and indigenous or tribal groups, on the other. Postcolonial states, for their part, commonly downplay ethnic distinctions and reject the notion of their tribal communities being more indigenous than their mainstream societies. This, however, obscures the fact that the mainstream societies of postcolonial states usually encroach upon the native territories and cultural traditions of local indigenous groups in a manner very similar to that of white settlers in the classical settler states, or that of white colonials in the various historical European colonies. The paper illustrates these points, by first zooming in on state-financed or -authorized religious boarding schools for indigenous children in Canada, the US, Australia, and India. Highlighting patterns of severe child abuse present at religious schools in all the four countries, it then discusses in more detail the role religious proselytization of indigenous peoples has played in India.

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