by Robert Eric Frykenberg, editor
Frykenberg provides an overview of the complex origins of Christians in India.
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 255 Jefferson Ave. S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49503 and London: RoutledgeCurzon. 2003, 419 pages, $39.00.
—Reviewed by Roger E. Hedlund, director of the Dictionary of South Asian Christianity project at the Mylapore Institute for Indigenous Studies, Chennai, India.
Christianity should not be confuted by colonialism. The essays in this collection explain why. Frykenberg provides an overview of the complex origins of Christians in India. Several writers document the indispensable role of national workers in the spread of the gospel. There were spin-offs.
Several essays deal with the emergence of Hinduism as a system. Geoffrey Oddie shows that the notion of Hinduism as a unified religious system is of recent origins. Orientalists constructed a Hinduism of their liking for purposes of comparison with other world religions. In effect this created a monolithic new system which ignored regional variations and radical differences between sects.
The early Protestant missionaries adopted the Orientalists’ assumptions and the term “Hindoo” in their writing and preaching. Meanwhile, the Hindus themselves found it a convenient term for purposes of self-identity in contra-distinction to Islam. This discussion of the origins of Hinduism is apropos in light of considerable misinformation. Oddie’s reconstruction of historical events involving the evolution of language and the missionaries’ perpetuations of an Orientalist myth is a potent lesson in the importance of sound information and the critical impact of ideas.
Michael Bergunder’s study of Paulaseer Lawrie serves as an example of the rise of syncretic new religious movements that combine Christian and Hindu concepts and practices. Bergunder unveils Lawrie’s metamorphosis from Pentecostal healing evangelist to self-proclaimed Messiah, an incarnation of Jesus Christ and a Hindu avatar (incarnation of a Hindu deity).
The Santals provide an interesting study in the failed expectations of pioneer missionaries whose zealous piety was not matched by an adequate knowledge of the people’s history and culture. Marine Carrin and Harald Tambs-Lyche document the failed efforts of missionaries Skrefsrud and Börresen to create a Santal National Church. Or was the failure due to the changed perceptions and policies of a second generation of missionaries? Initially the Santal catechists were co-opted into the missionary enterprise and occupied important positions in the nascent church, a prominence diminished with an increased number of European missionaries in the 1880s and 1890s.
That Christianity is Indian is demonstrated by the varied of examples provided by this compendium. The book is a valuable addition to studies of the history of Christianity in South Asia and expressions of indigenous Indian Christianity, essential for missiologi-cal, theological and historical research libraries.
Check these titles:
Brown, Judith M. and Robert Eric Frykenberg. eds. 2002. Christians, Cultural Interactions, and India’s Religious Traditions. Grand Rapids, Mich., and Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. London and Rout-ledgeCurzon.
Hedlund, Roger E. Hedlund, ed. 2003. Christianity Is Indian: The Emergence of an Indigenous Community, rev. ed. Delhi: ISPCK and Chennai: MIIS (Mylapore Institute for Indigenous Studies).
Hedlund, Roger E. 2000. Quest for Identity: India’s Churches of Indigenous Origin, The “Little Tradition” in Indian Christianity. Delhi: ISPCK and Chennai: MIIS.
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