IASH Intellectual and Literary History Public Seminar Series

Cultures and Values


The Surprise of Conversion: Aboriginal Histories of Mission Encounters

Historians and anthropologists have increasingly found that Indigenous peoples’ conversion to Christianity occurred as they creatively wove the new faith into their own traditions. This interpretation of Indigenous Christianities is becoming so prominent as to be a new orthodoxy. Yet it risks overshadowing how Indigenous peoples themselves have understood the history of Christianity in their society. This paper turns to a case study of the Tiwi of North Australia. Tiwi oral histories of the ‘conversion’ of a Catholic priest inverts missionary and scholarly assumptions about inculturation and conversion by insisting they did not accommodate a new faith but that the Catholic Church converted as it learned to embrace them. Their history offers fresh insights to scholars seeking to understand conversion in cross-cultural contexts, suggesting that conversion can occur as spiritual communities change in the act of incorporating new peoples.


Laura Rademaker is Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Australian National University with interests in histories of race, gender and religion. She was awarded her doctorate from the Australian National University in 2015. Her thesis received numerous prizes: the J.G. Crawford Prize; John Molney Prize; and Australian Historical Association’s Serle Award. Her research also received the Council of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences 2017 Future Leaders Prize and the 2016 Taylor and Francis prize for best article in History Australia. Her first book, Found in Translation: Many Meanings on a North Australian Mission (University of Hawai’I Press) appears in April this year.


4.00pm Thursday 22 March 2018

Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower

University of Queensland, St Lucia

Please contact iash@uq.edu.au or 07 334 69492 for further details
For parking information please visit: www.pf.uq.edu/parking/

All welcome!



Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower (Building #1)