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Anbu Nagar is a Dalit slum in the industrial sprawl of north Chennai. Attempting to grasp the connections between religion and everyday life in Anbu Nagar, Nathaniel Roberts shows us how what goes on in the street and at home gives meaning to religion—and not just the reverse, as commonly supposed. To Be Cared For contests nationalist narratives of Christianity as a “foreign” ideology that disrupts local communities. Far from being a divisive force, conversion integrates the slum community—Christians and Hindus alike—by mending moral fault lines that subtly pit women against one another, and by fortifying slum dwellers in their shared struggle for humanity in a national context that denies it.
To Be Cared For was awarded the Bernard Cohn Book Prize by the Association for Asian Studies for ‘outstanding and innovative scholarship across discipline and country of specialization for a first single-authored monograph on South Asia.’
‘Nathaniel Roberts’ To Be Cared For is a rigorous and lyrical study of humanity and contradiction in an urban Dalit slum. There is hardly any serious sociological, anthropological or literary study I can think of where the author has lived amidst slum dwellers, eating what they ate, drinking what they drank. Roberts makes us rethink our conceptions of religion, spirituality, poverty, caste, love, and crucially, their interplay with gender. There are times when the stories will make you cry, unless your humanity is completely dead’—Kancha Ilaiah, Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad
‘A richly layered critique of elite discourses and anxieties about caste and conversion in India through a moving and insightful ethnography of the religious practices and morality among the profoundly dispossessed. At once about caste, gender, hunger, injustice and caring, this beautifully written book carries an analytical heft rarely seen in such grounded ethnographies’—Raka Ray, Professor of Sociology and South Asia Studies, University of California, Berkeley
‘This is a remarkable book manuscript, full of original insights, supported by painstaking ethnographic research and written with clarity and sensitivity. The book takes a hugely complex subject – the meaning of Christian conversion and Pentecostal experience among India’s poorest Dalits– and gives us new points of departure; and in the process shows how anthropological approaches to religion, identity and conversion need to change if the significance of Christianity (in this instance) is to be properly understood and not bound to a default ‘culturalised’ idea of religion. In other words, the book helps the reader rethink the nature of religion, culture and truth and why these are matters of urgent importance to people facing social discrimination, extreme poverty and acute uncertainty’—David Mosse, Professor of Anthropology School of African and Oriental Studies, London
‘This remarkable ethnography of conversion to Pentecostal Christianity among the Dalit slum-dwellers in South India tells a fascinating story with critical skill and compassion. Religion here is how people live not what official doctrine says. Nathaniel Roberts gives us a complicated picture of moral contradictions and religious insights to be found in the life of the community he studied. This book is essential reading for anthropologists and others interested in the roles of religion in the modern world’—Talal Asad, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
‘He also offers a timely and important analysis of the dominant discourse about conversion in postcolonial India, showing how liberal and secular positions have been shaped by upper-caste and Hindu majoritarian views about religious identity. Nationalism is being overtly conflated with Hinduism, and all those who dissent –Dalits, Muslims, leftists, and feminists – are being attacked and abused, physically and verbally. Roberts reminds us that such a conflation has long operated as a kind of common sense’—Ania Loomba, Catherine Bryson Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
‘The encouragement that Pentecostalism gives to the development of literacy amongst women will in time give rise to a critical politics in the slum. Then, perhaps, the slum dwellers of Chennai will become a ‘dangerous class’ in a different sense – that of posing a challenge to the ruling classes’—John Harriss, Professor of International Studies and Director of the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
‘Anthropologists are generally ill-equipped to incorporate God into their analysis, and therefore fail to represent the world as their informants see it. In contrast to these critiques, Roberts produces an ethnography that, following what he calls the ‘theological realism’ of his informants, leaves room for divine agency, without making a case for theism as such. This is no mean feat, and represents a significant contribution to the anthropology of religion’—Naomi Haynes, Chancellor’s Fellow and Lecturer in Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh
‘Roberts makes us rethink our conceptions of religion, spirituality, poverty, caste, love, and crucially, their interplay with gender. There are times when the stories will make you cry, unless your humanity is completely dead’—Kancha Ilaiah
‘Roberts … tells a fascinating story with critical skill and compassion’—Talal Asad
'This turns out to be an instrument for some particularly sensitive and engaging ethnographic work.'—John Harriss
'This is no mean feat, and represents a significant contribution to the anthropology of religion.'—Naomi Haynes