Following on the successful 2018 session devoted to a discussion of the 2017 Cohn Prize winner, the South Asia Council now seeks to establish an annual Cohn Prize panel tradition. The 2018 winner is Nathaniel Roberts’ ‘To Be Cared For: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum’ - a compelling ethnography that explores the moral world of Dalit women who convert to Christianity in a Chennai slum. This roundtable brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to discuss the book’s contributions to South Asian Studies, as well as to anthropology, geography, history, religious studies, and urban studies. Participants' diverse perspectives will highlight the role of ethnography in social science writ large.
This year’s Cohn Prize roundtable will be chaired by Sara Shneiderman (University of British Columbia; Anthropology and School of Public Policy & Global Affairs), and will feature presenters Lalit Batra (University of Minnesota; Department of Geography, Environment and Society), Lauren Leve (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill; Religious Studies) and Anupama Rao (Barnard College; History), with discussant’s remarks from the book’s author, Nathaniel Roberts (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen; Centre for Modern Indian Studies).
Each participant will speak for no more than 10 minutes, reserving ample time for discussion. Shneiderman will introduce the book and contextualize it within South Asian Studies and the anthropology of religion. Drawing upon his work as a geographer with Delhi slum sanitation workers, Batra will focus on the variegated relationship between space and identity. As an anthropologist working on Christian conversion in Nepal, Leve will put Roberts' arguments into dialogue with Christian practices of care work in Nepal, inviting comparison of Christian practices, politics, affects, and forms of organization across the South Asia region. A historian known for her work on ‘the Dalit question’, Rao will consider forms of Dalit urbanism (with specific attention to labor and religion) through a comparative lens on Madras and Bombay. She will consider how questions of precarious livelihood and survival intersect with the issues of conversion (whether to Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity), morality and belief. The session will conclude with Roberts’ response to each commentator.