Improving the public: Translating Protestant values through nineteenth-century bilingual print journalism in South Asia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The term ‘Protestant’ is one that rose out of the very specific religious and political contexts of Reformation Europe but how did it travel to cultures outside of Europe? When it travelled to South Asia, the phrase ‘Protestant’ remained untranslated in Indian languages and I am interested in exploring the range of meanings, sacred and secular, that it came to signify in nineteenth-century India.

Focusing on a bimonthly bilingual (Tamil and English) journal Utaya Tārakai or Morning Star published from Jaffna (in present day Sri Lanka) from 1841, this article will examine the efforts of two Protestant Tamil editors to form ‘public opinion’ on a range of issues in Tamil-speaking South India and Jaffna. Publishing contributions from Tamils and Europeans from across the religious spectrum, the journal displays a certain self-consciousness regarding its ‘Protestant’ role in the public space. Ostensibly focusing on “improving” the “minds and hearts of our readers” with articles on “most of the useful sciences and arts” as the introductory editorial of 1841 claims, the articles address an interesting range of topics across the sciences and humanities, including the comparative analyses of languages and religions. As the years progress, however, there are increasing numbers of articles with greater references to religion and morality and to the Bible as the main point of rational reference for judging issues of truth, ethics and morality.

This article will explore the use of the term ‘Protestant’ in this journal and related literature in colonial South Asia to suggest that in practical terms ‘Protestant’ began to function not only to demarcate individuals as belonging to a particular Christian tradition but that it began to serve as an evaluative category beyond the ‘religious’ context to assess ideas that are more frequently associated with the secular. I show for instance that although not always explicitly stated, the enterprise to engage with and shape a ‘rational’ public opinion is made possible by equating ‘Protestant’ with ‘rationality’ where the ‘Protestant’ position is and functions as the ‘reasonable’ one.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTranslating Values
Subtitle of host publicationEvaluative Concepts in Translation
EditorsPiotr Blumczynski, John Gillespie
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9781137549716, 9781137549709
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2016

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Translating and Interpreting
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan


  • translation of concepts
  • Protestant
  • Tamil print culture
  • print journalism
  • South Asian colonial history


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