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STROUD, Scott R.

Spring 2016, 46.1, pages 5-27

Pragmatism and the Pursuit of Social Justice in India: Bhimrao Ambedkar and the Rhetoric of Religious Reorientation

Abstract: This essay engages the understudied Indian reformer, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), in order to explicate pragmatism’s influence in non-Western rhetorical situations. By charting the influence of John Dewey on Ambedkar as a student at Columbia University, this study explores Ambedkar’s translation of pragmatism into an Indian context filled with religiously underwritten injustice. His form of pragmatist rhetoric focuses on conversion as a solution to the problems of untouchables in India, and represents a version of pragmatist rhetoric that is revolutionary in form and effect. Expanding our knowledge of how persuasion relates to religious conversion, I argue that Ambedkar constructs and employs a pragmatist rhetoric of reorientation. Honed by Ambedkar in the pluralistic context of India, this process is comprised of three distinct steps: evaluation of existing religious commitments, renunciation of harmful worldviews, and conversion to beneficial alternative religious orientations