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Dr. Thomas Krutak

Associate Member


Areas of Interest

  • Religion and state in modern India
  • Christianity in South Asia (especially Central India)
  • Conversion theories and theories of religion
  • Law and religion
  • Sociology of religion, economics of religion

Secular Aspirations and Colonial Legacies of Conversion Law in India

Conversion is a controversial political issue in India. It affects both the image of the Indian nation and basic political principles such as constitutional civil rights and secularism. In recent years, an increasing number of Indian states have passed or strengthened so called “Freedom of Religion Acts”, which regulate conversion from one religion to another and penalize conversion “by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means”. The extent to which these measures are covered by religious freedom and the principle of secularism, and thus consistent with the Indian constitution, is a matter of legal, political, and scholarly dispute. 

In my project I explore (post-)colonial trajectories which contributed to the ambiguous legal and bureaucratic designation of conversion as both a component of religion and an act of transgression. For this, I draw on my dissertation on the application of “Freedom of Religion Acts” in India. I argue that governmental interventions in late colonial Central India which sought to secure colonial rule created conversion law as a means of controlling citizens' religious affiliations, despite official policies of neutrality and tolerance in religious matters.

Although it is well known that there have been certain laws on conversion in colonial India, it remains unnoticed that these laws have a legacy in framing perceptions of how an Indian state should and will respond to conversion as a perceived security threat. Debates in this regard focus on the colonial legacy of Christian mission and conversion as political means of protest. However, examining conversion legislation primarily as a strategy of colonial rule in the 1930s and 1940s allows us to better understand the patterns of argumentation that legitimize conversion as a matter of state intervention. Second, it allows us to explain what makes it a key area for negotiating the legal scope of religious freedom and the demarcations between religions in contemporary India. Today's conversion legislation functions detached from its historical relationship to Christian missions. Indeed, new areas of application of conversion legislation have emerged in recent years, notably the criminal restriction of marriages of certain religiously mixed couples which is seen as an act of forcible conversion to Islam - polemically referred to as ‘love jihad’. Finally, the colonial background of conversion legislation helps us understand the emergence of legal uncertainties in republican “Freedom of Religion Acts” and argumentative pitfalls concerning the application of the principles of religious freedom and secularism in relation to conversion.



PhD (Dr. phil.), Institute for the Study of Religion, Leipzig University


Research Associate, Institute for the Study of Religion, Leipzig University


Master of Arts, Institute for the Study of Religion, Leipzig University


Research Associate, Institute for the Study of Religion, Leipzig University


Magister Artium, Philosophy, Political Science, and Cultural Studies, Leipzig University