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Contesting ‘Gifts from Jesus’

Conversion, Charity, and the Distribution of Used Clothing in Guyana

In: Social Sciences and Missions
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Clothes are a means to demonstrate wealth, status, and socio-religious hegemony. Practices of consuming and exchanging clothing enhance or lower one’s status by displaying and creating taste and capital. In Guyana, many Hindus relate charitable clothing distributions exclusively to Christian missions. They commonly state that the distribution of used clothing is a means to convert Hindus to Christianity. While indeed in the past only Christians were able to conduct such distributions due to their links to colonial powers, today and as a result of transnational migration to North America Guyanese Hindus also organize distributions of clothing. For this purpose, migrants collect used clothes and ship them to Guyana. This article proposes that as Hindus remain a minority in Guyana, the practice of and discourse about charitable distributions are a means to counter and resist the perceived ‘threat’ of conversion. It demonstrates how charitable distributions thereby influence the local socio-religious hierarchy and challenge established power structures.

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