Christians, Cultural Interactions, and India's Religious Traditions

Christians, Cultural Interactions, and India's Religious Traditions

Christians, Cultural Interactions, and India's Religious Traditions

Christians, Cultural Interactions, and India's Religious Traditions


Christianity has been one of India's religious traditions since its beginning, but the 19th and 20th centuries saw a new wave of Protestant missionary concern with India which coincided with British rule on the subcontinent, and the growth of modern forms of communications. Christians became involved in new forms of cultural interaction, which have had a major impact on Indian culture and society. These essays examine the many and diverse cultural interactions which have occurred between Indian and foreign missionary Christians with India's other religious traditions in the 19th and 20th centuries, showing how Christianity has played a significant role in the development of Indian culture at many levels, among both the educated and the poor.


The South Asian subcontinent has for centuries been a meeting place for diverse religious and cultural traditions. Here many of the world’s major religious traditions have coexisted and interacted, influencing and being influenced by their neighbors. Not least among the processes of interaction was the way in which converts, for example to Christianity or Islam, often carried with them much from their former allegiances and beliefs. So marked a feature of India’s history was this religious pluralism that when nationalist politicians began to articulate what they saw as central to national identity in the twentieth century, some of the most thoughtful identified a “composite” and multireligious culture as crucial to their inheritance.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, the dynamics of cultural and religious interaction on the subcontinent were significantly changed by new Protestant and Catholic missionary movements from Europe and America. Christianity had, of course, long been one of India’s own religious traditions, in the form of the Syrian Christian communities in the south of the subcontinent, which claimed roots dating to apostolic times, and in the groups of Catholic Christians whose origins lay in the missions of the sixteenth century. There was now, however, a new drive to convert Indians of

1. See, for example, the discussions by Mahatma Gandhi in his 1909 pamphlet, Hind Swaraj [Indian Home Rule], or the attempt by Jawaharlal Nehru to capture the essence of India: A. J. Parel, ed., Gandhi: Hind Swaraj and Other Writings (Cambridge, 1997); J. Nehru, The Discovery of India (1st ed., 1946; London, 1947).

2. K. Ward and B. Stanley, eds., The Church Mission Society and World Christianity, 1799–1999 (Grand Rapids, 2000); and D. Hudson, Protestant Origins in India: Tamil Evangelical Christians, 1706–1835 (Richmond, Surrey, 2000).

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