Posts Tagged ‘India’

A Matter of Belief: Book Review

June 9, 2014

Joshi, Vibha. 2012. A Matter of Belief: Christian Conversion and Healing in North-East India. New York: Berghahn Books.

Reviewed by Jessica Hardin (Pacific University)

This is a book about how animism and Christianity are practiced together among Angami people in Nagaland in North-East India. Vibha Joshi provides a wide overview of indigenous religious practices, the contemporary Christian landscape, and colonial/missionary history building on fieldwork spanning from 1985 through to 2011. Most broadly, the book aims to show how Christianity provides a framework for political peace for conflict arising between Naga nationalist groups and the Indian government. Specifically, Joshi argues that Christianity provides a language and organization for reconciliation, even if she remains skeptical of its capacities to truly “heal society.” The motivation for this book is to provide a deep overview of the historical complexity of the emergence of Christianity and the ways Christianity is intertwined with nationalism in North-East India. The book provides a wide scope of historical, political, and geographic context and, as such, is less a book about Christianity per se and more about (1) the relationship between indigenous religions and Christianity in beliefs and practice and (2) the political uses of Christianity from colonialism through to contemporary calls for peace, reconciliation, and unity.

The book is explicitly situated in conversation with the Anthropology of Christianity (5-11). Joshi writes that she did not start this project as a study of Christianity, but instead came to study Christianity through her work with Angami healers. She writes, “one could say that my research at the outset and throughout has focused on Naga as a people, including its healers, some of whom are Christian” (6). Nonetheless, Joshi frames the book as about conversion to Christianity. She explores both “the pragmatic” and “the passionate” (3) dimensions of large-scale conversion and aims to draw attention to the contradictions and tensions that arise when Christianity is put to the work of nationalism, calls for cultural homogeneity, and peace. One of the contradictions that Joshi highlights is that the rituals, attire, and art that expresses Naga-ness, which were originally discouraged by missionaries in the early phases of evangelism, are now taking center stage at public Christian celebrations. Joshi does not expand on how this tension is experienced by her interlocutors as much as suggests points of interaction between indigenous religion, Christianity, and historical context. Overall Joshi asks, “what, then, can a new religion offer, and what is appropriated by the converts?” (7). Read the rest of this entry »

Friedner, “The Church of Deaf Sociality”

February 22, 2014

Friedner, Michele. 2014. The Church of Deaf Sociality: Deaf Churchgoing Practices and “Sign Bread and Butter” in Bangalore, India. Anthropology & Education Quarterly 45(1): 39–53.

Abstract: This article ethnographically analyzes the practices of deaf young adults in Bangalore, India. As sign language is not used by families, schools, or other institutions, the church is a crucial educational space. Churchgoing provides deaf young adults with opportunities to orient themselves toward other deaf young adults, to develop new ideas of self and other, and to value sign language.

Young and Seitz, ed, “Asia in the Making of Christianity”

June 26, 2013

Young, Richard Fox and Jonathan A. Seitz, eds. 2013. Asia in the Making of Christianity: Conversion, Agency, and Indigeneity, 1600s to the Present. London: Brill.

Contributors: Richard Fox Young, Jonathan A. Seitz, Nola Cooke, Richard Burden, Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, La Seng Dingrin, Erik de Maaker, Sipra Mukherjee, Gregory Vanderbilt, Jonas Adelin Jorgensen, Chad M. Bauman, Franklin Rausch, Rhonda Semple, Matthias Frenz, Edwin Zehner

Publisher’s Description: Drawing on first person accounts, Asia in the Making of Christianity studies conversion in the lives of Christians throughout Asia, past and present. Fifteen contributors treat perennial questions about conversion: continuity and discontinuity, conversion and communal conflict, and the politics of conversion. Some study individuals (An Chunggŭn of Korea, Liang Fa of China, Nehemiah Goreh of India), while others treat ethnolinguistic groups or large-scale movements. Converts sometimes appear as proto-nationalists, while others are suspected of cultural treason. Some transition effortlessly from leadership in one religious community into Christian ministry, while others re-convert to new forms of Christianity. The accounts collected here underscore the complexity of conversion, balancing individual agency with broader social trends and combining micro- with macrocontextual approaches

Miles-Watson, “Pipe organs and satsang: Contemporary worship in Shimla’s colonial churches”

June 4, 2013

Miles-Watson, Jonathan. 2013. Pipe organs and satsang: Contemporary worship in Shimla’s colonial churches. Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14(2):204-222.

Abstract: This article explores two seemingly contrasting types of Christian worship (one led by the pipe organ and the other by satsang), which I repeatedly experienced (between 2006 and 2010) during my fieldwork in Shimla, North India. Although it is often assumed that the pipe organ speaks more to colonial worship and satsang to postcolonial worship, this article demonstrates that both of these styles of worship are actually postcolonial attempts to negotiate colonial history. This suggests a need to complicate contemporary external discussions of the inculturation of Christian worship in India. Furthermore, by focusing on the way that contemporary Christians work with missionary histories to create living landscapes of worship, this article demonstrates that Christian worship is central to the identity of many non-Christian residents and tourists, who are also central to the formation of Christian landscapes of worship. The article concludes by suggesting that these groups also need to be brought into debates about the nature of Christian worship in contemporary India.

Roberts, “Is Conversion a ‘Colonization of Consciousnesss’?”

January 18, 2013

Roberts, Nathaniel. 2012. Is Conversion a ‘Colonization of Consciousness’? Anthropological Theory 12(3):271-294.

Abstract: The trope in which conversion – especially of non-Western people to Christianity – is envisioned as a type of conquest is one many scholars have found compelling. This article examines the implicit moral psychology behind the idea that conversion is a ‘colonization of consciousness’, which it identifies as rooted in a secular liberal model of the self and of religion. The appeal of the conversion-as-conquest trope lies in its focus on power, but by building secular liberal assumptions into its theoretical optic it remains ironically blind to some of the most pervasive ways power operates today – namely, through the production of secular truths about religion, and by authorizing ‘autonomous’ secular subjectivities as normative. Drawing on examples from the author’s research on Pentecostal conversion in Indian slums, and on a national context where violent anti-conversion activism is prevalent, the article argues that while both conversion and opposition to it entail power, this power is not well understood on the model of mental colonization, or ‘resistance’ by uncolonized subjectivities.

Etter, “‘Women With No One’: Community and Christianity in a Secular South Indian Homeless Shelter”

August 27, 2012

Etter, Connie, (2012) “”Women With No One”: Community and Christianity in a Secular South Indian Homeless Shelter.” Anthropology – Dissertations. Syracuse University, Susan Wadley, Advisor. Paper 96. http://surface.syr.edu/ant_etd/96

Abstract: This dissertation examines daily life and social service practices in a secular homeless shelter for women in Tamil Nadu, south India. The residents of the shelter have diverse backgrounds but local staff members and volunteers describe them collectively as “women with no one”: unwed mothers, orphans, widows, women abandoned or abused by husbands and lovers, former sex workers, prisoners’ wives, and women deemed mentally or physically unfit for marriage. Daily negotiations of belonging take place among this transient and diverse group of marginalized women and equally diverse and transnational care providers. The closed shelter campus provides an opportunity to query the everyday experience of secularism and pluralism. Shelter board members emphasize these concepts as guiding principles of the institution. Indeed, they are touted in many settings as a necessary and laudable framework for democratic life in globalized and increasingly diverse populations. But how do individuals and communities, in everyday life and interactions, understand and engage with such abstract ideals?

Ethnographic research, conducted between August 2008 and August 2009, revealed important insights regarding the ideals shaping the secular goals of the shelter, namely women’s social rehabilitation. First, the definition of secularism cannot be assumed and is not universal. Inline with commonsense equations of secularism and pluralism in India, the secular goals of the shelter involved passionate displays of religious conviction, continuous ethical deliberation, and reflection on cultural ideals of womanhood and family. Secularism, in other words, was a religious, cultural, and gendered idea and practice. Second, just as there were many secularisms, many Christianities were embodied and articulated within the shelter. The institution depended on various local and international Christian communities for donations of time and money. They each had different understandings of the relationship between Christianity and women’s social rehabilitation. Third, cultural ideals are fragile. The social stigma faced by women living outside of patriarchal family structures and the forced intimacy of women with diverse backgrounds living together on a closed campus emphasized this fact. Faced with the fragility of social and cultural ideals, women at the shelter took great risks to forge new terms of belonging, community, and womanhood.

Jansen and Lang, “Transforming the Self and Healing the Body Through the Use of Testimonies in a Divine Retreat Center, Kera”

January 6, 2012

Jansen, Eva and Claudia Lang (2011) “Transforming the Self and Healing the Body Through the Use of Testimonies in a Divine Retreat Center, Kerala” Journal of Religious Health [On line publication – pagination, issue and volume information not yet available]

Abstract:  In this article, we analyze the collective healing process that takes place on a weekly basis in the Divine Retreat Center (DRC) in Muringoor, Kerala. We argue that disease in the DRC is understood either as a psycho-somatic or as a spirito-somatic phenomenon. In contrast to other Charismatic communities, however, the body is the locus on which the medical effects of the healing become visible. The whole process is divided into several phases: First, there is a cleansing and disengagement procedure that aims to purify and liberate the participants through confession and counseling. Thereafter comes a climatic phase of personal emptying, transition and re-orientation during which the healing itself takes place. The procedure is finally completed with the person being spiritually ‘‘refilled’’ by the Holy Spirit. The dominant recurring element in the whole process is the continuous statement of healing ‘‘testimonies.’’ As an integral part of the healing proce- dure, these statements are used to share personal experiences among the participants in the center. They are produced in a strict format in order to be spread far beyond through various media (TV, newspaper, Internet, etc.). They thereby constitute a speech genre that follows specific rules and patterns. Through shaping one’s own biography in the frame of the testimonies, so we argue, the actual transformation of the self and therefore the miracle healing takes place.

Dempsey, “Bringing the Sacred Down to Earth”

December 9, 2011

Dempsey, Corinne G. (2012) Bringing the Sacred Down to Earth: Adventures in Comparative Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Description (from publisher): In Bringing the Sacred Down to Earth, Corinne Dempsey offers a comparative study of Hindu and Christian, Indian and Euro/American earthbound religious expressions. She argues that official religious, political, and epistemological systems tend to deny sacred access and expression to the general populace, and are abstracted and disembodied in ways that make them irrelevant to if not neglectful of earthly realities. Working at cross purposes with these systems, attending to material needs, conferring sacred access to a wider public, and imbuing land and bodies with sacred meaning and power, are religious frameworks featuring folklore figures, democratizing theologies, newly sanctified land, and extraordinary human abilities. Some scholars will see Dempsey’s juxtapositions of Hindu and Christian religious dynamics, many of which exist on opposite sides of the globe, as a leap into a disciplinary minefield. Many have argued for decades that comparison is an outmoded, politically troubled approach to the human sciences. More recently opponents, represented by a growing number of religion scholars, are ”writing back” in comparison’s defense, asserting the merits of a readjusted, carefully contextualized, new comparativism. But, says Dempsey, the inestimable advantages of the comparative method described by religion scholars and performed in this book are disciplinary as well as ethical. As demonstrated in this stimulating book, the process of comparison can shed light on angles and contours otherwise obscured and perform the important work of bridging human contingencies and perception across religious, cultural, and disciplinary divides.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Adventures and Misadventures in Comparison
Chapter 1: The Suffering Indian Nun and the Wandering (Drunken) Irish Priest: Orientalism and Celticism Unplugged
Chapter 2: Arguing Equal Access to an Earthly Sacred: Christian and Hindu Theologies of Liberation
Chapter 3: Making and Staking Sacred Terrain: Rajneeshee and Diaspora Hindu Settlers and Unsettlers
Chapter 4: Embodying the Extraordinary in Iceland and India and the Difference Spirits Make
Postscript: Unanticipated Adventures in Ritualized Ethnography

Misra, “The Missionary Position”

December 6, 2011

Misra, Amalendu (2011) “The Missionary Position: Christianity and Politics of Religious Conversion in India,” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics  17(4):361-381

Abstract: The purpose of this article is to critically examine the politics of religious conversion in India. Since Christianity is the main religion espousing and conducting conversion in ever-larger numbers in India, my focus, in the following pages, is to interrogate the debate surrounding this particular undertaking and the attendant conflict dynamics. This study is organized according to the following framework. First, it situates religious conversion in the context of radical Hindu nationalism. Second, it explores the issue of religious conversion in the theories of identity and globalization. Third, it probes the specifics of Christian conversion in India and investigates the issue within the framework of identity politics and secularism. Fourth, it examines the response and reaction of the radical Hindu nationalists towards religious conversion in general and Christian conversion in particular from the perspective of ethno-religious nationalism. Fifth and finally, it evaluates the dimensions of conflict between Christians and Hindus and how they are played out in the shared social arena.

In conclusion, this article stresses that religious conversion in India is a form of a socioeconomic emancipatory undertaking. Those who feel stifled by the discriminatory caste order prevalent within Hinduism and live a marginal existence embrace this new identity. In the same breath it argues that Christianity in general, and Christian missionaries in particular, have courted criticism, opposition, and violence from radical Hindus, informed citizenry, and the institution of the state, as they are considered an “external other”—accused of undermining the complex sociopolitical order in the country.

Kent, “Secret Christians of Sivakasi”

October 3, 2011

Eliza F. Kent. 2011. “Secret Christians of Sivakasi: Gender, Syncretism, and Crypto-Religion in Early Twentieth-Century South IndiaJournal of the American Academy of Religions 79 (3):676-705

ABSTRACT: A frequent pattern found among crypto-religious communities is that the rituals or beliefs held in secret are transmitted primarily by women, from mothers to daughters. This paper examines a small community of women in south India, the secret Christians of Sivakasi, in order to investigate why these women chose to maintain a delicate, and at times dangerous, balance between their outward observance of Hindu rituals and their inner, private adherence to Christianity. By contextualizing these Nadar women’s lives in the vexed history of caste conflict in late nineteenth-century south India, I show that women in this upwardly mobile Hindu community found in clandestine Christian circles a means of securing a limited autonomy in an intensely patriarchal milieu, especially as their lives became increasingly circumscribed by Brahmanical customs. Georg Simmel and Paul Christopher Johnson’s analyses of the affective dynamics of secrecy illuminate the complex motivations for women’s involvement in these groups, in spite of the risks, and help explain why the conjugal bond becomes the focus of so much attention in the narratives of Secret Christians. By identifying features that distinguish crypto-religiosity, a relatively rare but distinctive outcome of religious encounter, in dialogue with Maurus Reinkowski and Joel Robbins’s work, I hope to make this category more useful, and push our understanding of the complexities of religious change beyond the well-known dyad of conversion and syncretism.

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