Publisher’s Description: The Saint in the Banyan Tree is a nuanced and historically persuasive exploration of Christianity’s remarkable trajectory as a social and cultural force in southern India. Starting in the seventeenth century, when the religion was integrated into Tamil institutions of caste and popular religiosity, this study moves into the twentieth century, when Christianity became an unexpected source of radical transformation for the country’s ‘untouchables’ (dalits). Mosse shows how caste was central to the way in which categories of ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ were formed and negotiated in missionary encounters, and how the social and semiotic possibilities of Christianity lead to a new politic of equal rights in South India. Skillfully combining archival research with anthropological fieldwork, this book examines the full cultural impact of Christianity on Indian religious, social and political life. Connecting historical ethnography to the preoccupations of priests and Jesuit social activists, Mosse throws new light on the contemporary nature of caste, conversion, religious synthesis, secularization, dalit politics, the inherent tensions of religious pluralism, and the struggle for recognition among subordinated people.
Among a number of organisational factors promoting growth of South Indian Pentecostalism, conversion stories and discussions on ‘worldliness’ and ‘holiness’ serve to emphasise a clear commitment and a distinctive Pentecostal experience. Despite Pentecostalism’s Protestant rhetoric, the experiences and discussions surrounding golden jewellery offer a critical correction to the modern iconoclastic notion of separation between spirit and matter.
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.