Conversion, continuity, and moral dilemmas among Christian Bidayuhs in Malaysian Borneo

by Liana Chua

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By Liana ChuaFull Article: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1548-1425.2012.01378.x/abstract

The nascent anthropology of Christianity highlights rupture as central to conversion. Yet thick ethnography of a Bidayuh village in Malaysian Borneo reveals how conversion can also foster modes of thinking and speaking about continuity between Christianity and “the old ways.” Through a study of the shifting moral and religious topography of a community in which three churches coexist alongside a few elderly animist practitioners, I argue that such discourses and practices of continuity highlight the pluralistic and sometimes contradictory nature of Christianization. At the same time, they generate an understanding of conversion as a temporal and relational positioning that encompasses both converts and nonconverts.

The congregation at a Holy Saturday service in the village’s Catholic chapel (2010
. Photo by Liana Chua.)
The congregation at a Holy Saturday service in the village’s Catholic chapel (2010). Photo by Liana Chua.

The congregation at a Holy Saturday service in the village’s Catholic chapel (2010).
Photo by Liana Chua.