SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Mediating Modernity? The Y.M.C.A. in South Asia (1890-1950)

Prof Harald Fischer-Tiné (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich)

Date: 28 January 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 28 January 2014Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B104

Type of Event: Seminar

The Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) became a significant player in India after 1890, when the presence of American ‘secretaries’ and the flow of US capital thoroughly transformed its modus operandi. By the 1910s the success of ‘the Y’ in South Asia was so spectacular, that the British colonial government sought to cooperate with it in a variety of fields. At the same time, local religious groups, driven by the fear of an impending wave of conversions to Christianity, created their own clones of ‘the Y’. Within the Christian Y.M.C.A., too, there was a growing ambition to rid the body from its foreign / colonialist  image and create stronger moorings with local societies. The talk attempts to elucidate these seemingly contradictory processes of ‘Americanisation’/Modernisation  and ‘indigenisation’ by concentrating on the Y.M.C.A.’s three most successful fields of activity: education,  ‘rural reconstruction’ or ‘village development’ and, last but not least, physical culture. It is argued that it was primarily its perceived efficiency in these three areas, which made the Y.M.C.A. so attractive to various Indian constituencies. As a result, the South Asian branch of the Christian youth association gradually lost its evangelical drive and almost became sort of an ideologically empty ‘modernising agency’, ready to be used for various, often conflicting political and social agendas.

Organiser: Dr Roy Fischel and Dr Shabnum Tejani