Pentecostals, Proselytization, and Anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India

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Chad M. Bauman
Global Pentecostalism and Charismatic Christianity
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , February
     2015.
     224 pages.
     $24.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780190202101.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In a manner that is both sympathetic and critically-engaged, Chad Bauman sets out to situate anti-Christian violence in contemporary India. His research, based primarily on two years of ethnographic work as well as media archival work, reveals a somewhat staggering statistic which should be realized by scholars within and across interrelated fields such as Indian religions, Hindu-Christian studies, interreligious violence, and world Christianity: approximately 83% of “every-day” anti-Christian violence in India is directed specifically at Pentecostals. Bauman characterises this as a “disproportionate targeting” of Pentecostal Christians in India and seeks to explore the reasons behind it. Unlike many existing studies of interreligious violence in South Asia, Bauman focuses on the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of violence. As Bauman himself notes, this reversal of perspective effectively produces an alternative story to the existing “master narrative” of anti-Christian violence—that such violence is strictly “the unprovoked work of Hindus” (17).

In the first chapter, Bauman engages with scholarship on global Pentecostalism to define what precisely is meant by Indian Pentecostalism. Bauman argues that the Indian Pentecostal movement predates the well-known Pentecostal revival which occurred on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in the early 20th century, thereby bringing into question the frequently-assumed view that all expressions of Pentecostalism sprang from western centers. This chapter shows that while Indian Pentecostalism draws from Western Christianity in many ways (and is often heavily supported by foreign funding), it also possesses certain qualities that are distinctively Indian (notably, faith healing, to which he returns in later chapters). Importantly, Bauman notes the ways in which Indian Pentecostals are difficult to distinguish from Indian Evangelicals, and proposes that this blurring of denominational identities is often intentional on the part of those within the traditions.

Chapter two outlines some of the historical interactions between Hindu and Christian groups within India, and explores the social pressures that may have contributed to current anti-Christian violence. Bauman’s overview suggests that these interactions have been, with some exceptions, largely peaceful, and he identifies the 1990s as marking a substantial increase in anti-Christian violence. While other scholars, such as Alexander Henn (Hindu-Cathlic Encounters in Goa: Religion, Colonialism, and Modernity, Indiana University Press, 2014) have suggested that early Hindu-Christian relations may have been structured by greater degrees of conflict than Bauman outlines, Bauman’s exploration of the political and social contexts which contributed to the increase of anti-Christian violence after the 1990s is a valuable contribution to scholarship. He convincingly explores the ways that anti-Christian violence was shaped by political-social factors such as the success of the Hindu-nationalist BJP government, and the social debates regarding the appropriateness of evangelism and conversion.

Working from the assumption that many individuals might be quick to attribute anti-Pentecostal violence to Pentecostals’ fervent proselytizing efforts (Bauman, to his credit, recognizes that he too had once held this view), the third chapter explores other factors which contribute to the disproportionate targeting of Pentecostals. Bauman acknowledges that the evangelism tactics of Pentecostals (notably more aggressive and fervent than those of mainstream Indian Christians) do contribute to their disproportionate targeting. Nevertheless, he importantly identifies two other (understudied) reasons that contribute to this violence: the fact that Pentecostals are comprised largely of marginalized groups (namely, women and low-caste individuals) and the fact that Pentecostals tend to adopt strong countercultural postures, resulting in the sort of societal “rupture” that Joel Robbins has elsewhere associated with global Pentecostal groups (“The Globalisation of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity,” Annual Review of Anthropology, 2004). Interestingly, Bauman’s careful study of the ways that mainstream Christians interact with and speak of Pentecostals suggests that much of the disproportionate targeting is unconsciously furthered by mainstream Christians who, much like Hindus from the hardline nationalist standpoints of Hindutva, view Pentecostal Christians as too belligerent and as having abandoned their “Indianness.” Bauman returns to this point again in the conclusion, raising important questions about whether the actual perpetrators of violence are the sole ones to bear the blame.

Having identified faith healing as the most prominent way that many Indian Pentecostals maintain (rather than abandon) their “Indianness,” Bauman dedicates the fourth chapter to this topic. Bauman convincingly shows the ways in which faith healing has long been a part of India's belief in spiritual beings’ abilities to cause harm or to heal, and he explores the extent to which Indian Pentecostal faith healing bears many similarities to non-Christian faith healing. This being said, Bauman perhaps over-emphasizes the extent to which faith healing is distinct from Western Christianity. He only briefly mentions the influence that "power evangelism" and other healing and deliverance models developed by Western Christians have had on faith healing in Indian Pentecostal contexts. The existence of internationally-renowned Christian training centers for healing and deliverance ministry (e.g. in Mumbai), whose mandate is to teach and equip pastors, evangelists, and lay-people, suggest that it would be fruitful to engage in a deeper and more nuanced exploration of the influences that Western Pentecostal models of faith healing have on Indian Pentecostalism.

In chapter five, Bauman successfully navigates between two opposing trends in the field of global Christianity by focusing neither solely on the influence of Western Christians nor on the “native agency” of Indian Christians. His detailed statistical data regarding the influence of Western Christians (namely, foreign funding) shows the breakdown of foreign funding and to what extent and in what ways it supports identifiably-Christian organizations in India.

Bauman should be applauded for both his careful, thorough research on a notably understudied topic, as well as for the approaches he has applied: he shares some of his assumptions, biases, and fears with the reader in ways that highlight the humanity of the key agents involved in these interreligious conflicts. Bauman not only addresses interreligious (and intrareligious) violence and conflict, but also provides a sympathetic yet critically engaged model through which religiously-motivated violence can be addressed.  I think the critically reflexive and honest posture which he takes has helped in making his research both widely applicable and accessible. Bauman succeeds in helping the reader to understand some of the larger societal, historical, and political contexts behind the disproportionate targeting of Indian Pentecostals.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Nadya Pohran is a graduate student at University of Cambridge.

Date of Review: 
May 30, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Chad Bauman is Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University and is the author ofChristian Identity and Dalit Religion in Hindu India, 1868-1947.

Keywords: 

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