Arun Chaudhuri teaches in the Department of Anthropology at York University. His research interests include the anthropology of religion, critical race theory, nationalism, transnationalism, and the movements between South Asia and North America.


The Prince and the Governors: The anxious locations of race, religion, and conversion in South Asian immigrant histories

This paper considers the convergences and divergences of race and religion in the histories of South Asian migration to America across the twentieth century. It examines past and present stories of how religious transformation plays a role in the perception and positioning of racialized immigrant minorities in American society. On the one hand, the paper will consider contemporary stories of “model minority” success, specifically around the figures of former governors Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, and the role that religious conversion is seen to play in the legitimization of such figures in the eyes of the state and the public. On the other hand, this discussion turns to the case of the early twentieth century mystic “Prince” A.K. Mozumdar (1863-1953), to consider how his own particular story of religious transformation rendered his perceived racial-religious identity curiously ambiguous, particularly in the wake of a supreme court ruling that denied him citizenship on the basis of race. This paper examines these different South Asian immigrant stories, from two different historical contexts, to consider how religious conversion/transformation might situate racialized subjects on the perpetually uneasy terrain of a settler colonial society and its anxious attempts to regulate belonging via race, religion, citizenship, and national identity.

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