To Be Cared For: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum.

Author:Biswal, Madhumita
Position:Book review
 
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Roberts, Nathaniel. To Be Cared For: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. xvi + 288 pages. Paperback, $29.95.

In making a sustained examination into the lives of Pentecostal Christians in a slum in Chennai, anthropologist Nathaniel Roberts' To Be Cared For: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum signals an important contribution to the anthropology of religion.

In the mainstream literature on social stratification, class and caste often get classified as two distinct systems of stratification. Contrary to the mutually exclusive way of understanding caste and class, the book strikingly brings out the convergence between the two. Roberts argues that, at a broader level, the whole caste structure can be reduced to two blocks: the Dalits (or untouchables) and the non-Dalits (or caste people). He explains that the Dalits, who are at the margins of the caste structure, are also at the margins of class hierarchy. They are subjected to systematic exploitation and economic deprivation. In the book, Roberts investigates the struggles of the Dalits in Anbu Nagar, a slum in the northern part of metropolitan Chennai in India. The main focus of the book is to examine how the women assign meanings to their everyday struggles when they convert to Pentecostal Christianity, and simultaneously how they give meaning to religion in the due course of their struggles.

The book has seven thematic chapters. Roberts introduces the book by tracing the etymological meaning of the English word Pariah, meaning an outcast or any person that is generally despised or avoided. Drawing from historical sources, the author states that the word is derived from the name of a Dalit caste in South India, called Paraiyar. In making this connection, the author sets the tone for the book. The first chapter of the book is titled "Outsiders." In this chapter, Roberts looks critically at the concept of 'outsider' through three separate lenses: firstly in the context of churches accepting foreign funding, secondly with respect to the author's own location as a foreigner doing his field work, and thirdly through the treatment of the slum as an outsider to the city itself. Through these discussions the author articulates that the categories of 'insider' and 'outsider' are not fixed, rather they are constructed, and their meanings change as per context.

In the second and third...

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