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Protestant Lenses for a Tamil Public: Translation, Reason and Religion in 19thC South Asia
In this presentation I wish to investigate the travel of the term ‘Protestant’ to South Asia and its use and circulation from the eighteenth century onwards. Why was this term in the main not translated into most South Asian languages and how did this untranslated term function in the shifting social and cultural contexts of South India and northern Sri Lanka? Examining Tamil-English dictionaries compiled in this period as well the Uttaya Tarakai: Morning Star, the first bilingual (Tamil-English) journal that began to be published from 1841 in Jaffna by two Protestant Tamils under the aegis of the American Baptist Society, I argue that the term Protestant acquired evaluative connotations beyond the sacred context. Embedded within wider translation practices and approaches introduced by Protestant missionaries, the term ‘Protestant’ served to link seemingly disparate conceptions of rationality and ‘useful’ knowledges, with an emerging sense of a ‘public’.