In the Shadows of the Mahatma: Bishop V.S. Azariah and the Travils of Christianity in British India

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In The Shadow of the Mahatma: Bishop V. S. Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India.

By Susan Billington Harper. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans;and Richmond, Surrey, U.K Curzon Press, 2000. Pp. xxii, 462. $45.

As a Rhodes scholar at Oxford in the early 1980s, Susan Billington Harper was challenged by the mission historian Bishop Stephen Neill "to fulfill his own dream of producing a critical scholarly biography of Bishop Azariah" (p. xv). Neill would be deeply satisfied with this exceptional biography. Thoroughly researched, written with verve, sympathetically presented, and richly contextual, In the Shadow of the Mahatma is a significant contribution to both the history of the church and the history of modern India.

During his years as bishop of Dornakal in Andra Pradesh, V. S. Azariah (1874-1945) was the leading Indian churchman and a major figure in the rising ecumenical movement. His contribution and reputation were almost lost amid the dynamic events of the newly independent state and the changing preoccupations of the church in India and beyond. Harper helps us recall this remarkable man, "a powerful and unforgettable example of Christian servanthood in troubled times."

Recapturing the story of Azariah was a formidable task. An energetic church leader for almost fifty years, Azariah!s knowingly incomplete bibliography of published works covers twelve pages in this book. Harper tracked his papers, letters, and reports in multiple libraries in India, the United Kingdom and the United States. Many family letters, scrapbooks, and memorabilia remain with family members. Although most focused as "bishop of the villages," Azariah traveled widely first as a YMCA secretary, then as Anglican bishop, finally as ecumenical spokesman. He participated in the major missionary and ecumenical conferences from Calcutta (1896), Shanghai (1907), and Edinburgh (1910) to Tambaram (1938). His correspondents included YMCA colleague Sherwood Eddy, his mentor Bishop Henry Whitehead of Madras, and an array of friends such as John R. Mott, J. Waskom Pickett, and Roland Allen. Harper interviewed dozens of individuals in reconstructing "the public life" and times of Azariah.

Much of the drama of Azariah`s life revolves around the momentous times in which he lived. The church in India was growing rapidly and increasingly determining its own governance. He founded the National Missionary Society in 1905 and became the first Indian Anglican bishop in 1912. …