Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-Cultural Communication since 1500

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ROBERT ERIC FRYKENBERG, ED. Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-Cultural Communication since 1500. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Kerdmans, 2003. Pp. xii + 419, index. $39.00 (paper).

In the often tense religious climate in contemporary India, militant Hindu groups have targeted Indian as well as western Christians as agents of imperialism and betrayers of their perception of India as "Hindustan." Christianity is usually seen as an alien import that has sought to disrupt traditional Indian (i.e., Hindu) society and culture. Indian converts to Christianity are stereotyped as lower-caste, who convert for self-advancement rather than religious belief. Given the emotionally charged political importance of religion in India today, Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-Cultural Communication since, 1500 is a welcome contribution towards a clearer and more accurate understanding of the rich, complex history of Christianity in India, and of the work and methods of Christian missionaries across the centuries.

The volume is a collection of quite diverse essays edited by the distinguished South Asian scholar Robert Eric Frykenberg, and is part of the series Studies in the History of Christian Missions. The central theme that informs and links most of the essays is the argument that Christianity is a religion as indigenous to India as to the West, and that its propagation was due as much to Indians as to western missionaries. Although most of the contributors are western, they write without apparent Eurocentric prejudice, and aim at understanding Christianity in India within the context of Indian and not imperial history.

Frykenberg lays out the main argument of the volume in his comprehensive introductory essay on the origins of Christianity in India. He provides a fascinating account of the "Thomas" (or Syrian) Christians in India, who believe themselves descended from those converted by the Apostle Thomas when he reputedly arrived in India in A.D. 52. These Thomas Christians are particularly interesting not only because of their ancient history, but also because they remained Hindu in culture and stayed embedded in the caste system. Frykenberg then examines the work of later western missionaries, whom he concludes could not have succeeded without the active cooperation of Indians, both Christian and Hindu. …