Writing the History of Indian Christianity: A Review Essay

By Mallampalli, Chandra | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, April 2013 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Writing the History of Indian Christianity: A Review Essay


Mallampalli, Chandra, International Bulletin of Missionary Research


Historiography of Christianity in India.

By John C. B. Webster. New Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press, 2012. Pp. x, 273. Rs 725/$59.75.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

This volume presents a compilation of essays written from 1978 to 2011 by John Webster, a dedicated scholar of Indian Christian history. Webster draws upon a lifetime of research and interaction with South Asians as he narrates different approaches to the study of India's Christian communities. Eschewing a disengaged church history written mainly for seminarians or missiologists, Webster connects Indian Christian history to issues addressed more widely in the history of modern South Asia, including nationalism, caste, subalternism, postmodernity, and gender. Webster's own important contributions to Dalit studies equip him to set Christian history against a larger thematic canvas. Indeed, the chief contributions of the book lie in (1) its capacity to narrate the historiography of Indian Christianity to multiple audiences, (2) its inclusion of Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Syrian Christian studies, and (3) its balance of details and broader themes.

Webster's relationship to many audiences--Indian and Western, secular and Christian--enhances the breadth of his treatment of Indian Christianity. His essays address both methodological and substantive topics with thoroughness and insight. At the same time, each essay reflects issues that concerned the author at the time of its writing, which accounts for the greater focus on some issues than on others.

The early section of the book describes a transition in historiography from Eurocentric models (28) to those more influenced by Indian nationalism (43-53). This discussion includes pre-nineteenth-century studies of Catholic and Syrian Christian missions, early and late nineteenth-century Protestant histories, and the emergence of histories "told by Indians." We often forget that old books are often still worth consulting, a point that Webster's summaries demonstrate. John William Kaye's Christianity in India (1859), for instance, addresses the 1857 Rebellion and its implications for ties between missionaries and the British Raj. While previously missionaries had viewed British rule as providentially ordained to promote the Christianization of India, Kaye uses history to argue for religious neutrality on the part of the Raj. Despite his plea, a tone of Protestant/European triumphalism persisted through much of the nineteenth century. This is evident in attitudes ranging from the anti-Catholic polemics of James Hough (1839) to the expansionist vision of M. A. Sherring (1875). (1)

The literature surrounding the 1857 Rebellion (or Sepoy Mutiny, as it is often called) is a matter that warrants considerable attention, perhaps more than Webster's book affords. Writers have tended to assign an enduring place to Christians in the historiography of modern India. (2) Christians, Protestant missionaries in particular, were those who attacked and interrogated Indian culture and religion. Through inflammatory preaching and tracts that exposed the deficiencies of Hinduism and Islam, Evangelicals awakened anti-British sentiments; and when those sentiments reached their boiling point, Indians engaged in their "first war of independence." Regardless of how much of this narrative one accepts, one cannot deny the role of cultural and religious factors in various accounts of the Rebellion. The Rebellion, it appears, figures more prominently in the historiography of modern India than it does in that of Indian Christianity. Given this disparity, we should perhaps consider whether the historiography of Indian Christianity should not cast its net more broadly so as to place discussion of Christians in India more fully within the wider stream of India's national history and not limit the field to histories of Indian Christians alone.

Amid the political climate of the twentieth century when Indians were fighting for home rule, Christian history writing became centered less on foreign missions and more on the Indian church.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Writing the History of Indian Christianity: A Review Essay
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?