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Educating Santals: The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Joypurhat (Bangladesh) and the Issue of Cultural Alienation

Brandt, Carmen

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Abstract

The nexus between development and proselytisation, particularly for Christianity and Islam, is increasingly becoming the subject of both study and public debate. One aspect of development is education, whose prominence in missionary activity is too well-known to need special comment, and it is with this aspect, within the framework just referred to, that this study is concerned, its geographic focus being Bangladesh. The Santals are, with a population of six millions, one of the biggest Adivasi groups in South Asia. The majority of Santals lives in the Indian states of Jharkhand and West Bengal; only a minority estimated at around 300,000 can be found in Bangladesh. The traditional belief system of the Santals is polytheistic and polyritual and is based on the worship of Bongas, the belief in supernatural beings and ancestral spirits and a large variety of distinct festivals. While some Santals have integrated Hindu elements and festivals into their traditional religious system, others fully profess Hinduism, while still others have over the last century converted to Christianity. Like a vast majority of the members of all other Adivasi groups in Bangladesh, the Santals too are very often deprived of their land, suffer from the economical and cultural domination of their Bengali neighbours, and lack constitutional recognition, access to basic supplies, primary health care and education. Although some secular development projects can be found in Bangladeshi Santal villages, in the last decades above all missionary institutions have shown most interest in their welfare. Indeed, asked for the reason of the Adventists’ focus on ethnic and religious minorities, the president of the Bangladesh Union Mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church — Eric Monnier, a Swiss citizen — replied in a personal interview that they want to help these minorities and protect them from the Muslim Bengali majority by giving them the chance to become equal members of an influential global group. But gradually these activities of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are being resisted by some target group members who fear cultural alienation. In the following, I shall attempt to analyse this dispute by citing the example of a primary school run by Seventh-day Adventists in a village in the district of Joypurhat in Bangladesh.

Document type: Book
Date: 2011
Date Deposited: 27. June 2011
ISBN: 978-3-86829-323-4
Faculties / Institutes: Universitäten / Institute > Martin-Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg / Institut für Orientalistik / Südasien-Seminar
DDC-classification: Religion
Controlled Subjects: Bangladesch, Santal, Adventisten, Mission
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bangladesch , Santal , Adventisten , Mission, Bangladesh , Santals , Adventist Church , Cultural Alienation
Subject (classification): Religion and Philosophy
Countries/Regions: Bangladesh
Series: Südasienwissenschaftliche Arbeitsblätter
Volume: 10

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