“Muscling in on Asia”: The YMCA and its Epigones in India and Ceylon, ca. 1890-1950
My research project is located at the intersection between religious studies, global history and the history of South Asia. Drawing on a wide variety of published and archival sources located in Europe, the USA, India and Sri Lanka, it investigates the broader question as to how new forms of organized religion that originated in Europe were transferred to non-western contexts and transformed in their new environments. More specifically, it takes a close look at the reception, appropriation and subversion of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in India, Ceylon and Burma during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
As a reaction to the rapid processes of cultural transformation and social disruption taking place in industrializing Britain during the first half of the 19th century, the original YMCA was opened in London in 1844. The subsequent spread and growth of the organization was nothing short of spectacular. Britain, its white settler colonies and the USA doubtlessly remained the most important centres of the movement, but using the ‘imperial high¬ways’ of the British empire, it soon expanded to the non-western world and arrived on the Indian subcontinent in 1857. As the movement had an unprecedented success in converting high caste/middle class south Asian youths to Christianity, religious authorities and self-proclaimed spokesmen of a wide array of faiths and denominations prevalent in the region reacted by founding their own youth organizations modeled after the YMCA. How can the astounding success of the relatively young transnational civil society organization and the equally spectacular mimetic reaction of South Asian religious authorities, intellectuals and reformers of all shades and colours be explained? What was so attractive about the YMCA for the Indian and Ceylonese intelligentsia in that particular historical constellation and how was the original template modified through processes of transcultural adaptation? The project starts from the hypothesis that the attraction of the Christian organization was closely connected with its activity in two fields that had some repercussions on anti-colonial nationalism in Asia, which was in its heyday during the period under survey. It will hence place particular emphasis on the YMCA’s contribution to the endeavours of:
a) Moulding youths through ‘character building’, physical culture and masculinity, and
b) Propagating rural development schemes.
Fischer-Tiné, H. 2009. Low and Licentious Europeans’: Race, Class and White Subalternity in Colonial India. New Delhi: Orient Longman.
Fischer-Tiné, H. 2003. Der Gurukul Kangri oder die Erziehung der Arya Nation: Kolonialismus, Hindureform und ‘nationale Bildung’ in Britisch-Indien (1897-1922). Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag.
Fischer-Tiné, H./Gehrmann, S. (eds). 2008. Empires and Boundaries. Rethinking Race, Class and Gender in Colonial Settings. New York/London: Routledge.
Fischer-Tiné, H. 2007. ‘Indian Nationalism and the World Forces’: Transnational and Diasporic Dimensions of the Indian Freedom Movement on the Eve of the First World War. Journal of Global History 2(3), pp. 325-44.
Fischer-Tiné, H. 2007. «Global Civil Society and the Forces of Empire: The Salvation Army, British Imperialism and the ‘pre-history’ of NGOs (ca. 1880-1920)» in: Conrad, Sebastian/Sachsenmaier, Dominic (eds): Competing Visions of World Order: Global Moments and Movements, 1880s – 1930s. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, pp. 29-67.