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Reviewed by:
  • Christianity in India: From Beginnings to the Present
  • Rhonda A. Semple
Christianity in India: From Beginnings to the Present. By Robert Eric Frykenberg. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2008. Pp. xxxii, 564. $165.00 cloth, ISBN 978-0-198-26377-7; $45.00 paperback, ISBN 978-0-199-57583-1.)

From the 1990s Robert Eric Frykenberg has increasingly focused his historical attention on Christianity in the Indian subcontinent, and in this latter work in particular Frykenberg's South Asia expertise reflects his upbringing in southern India, his identification as a Christian who believes in the positive influence of that belief system on the subcontinent, and his professional training. The text covers the immense period between the first century to the 1990s with varying depth of coverage. It also introduces the varieties of Christian expression in the subcontinent—Thomas Christians, Roman Catholic, and "evangelical" as each became manifest within the myriad of "Indian" ethnic and socioeconomic identities across the past 2000 years.

Frykenberg organizes what is by necessity a complex study in a manner that both follows linear historic developments and that is partially organized around the critical analysis of Christianity within the interface between the subcontinent and its neighbors. After offering contextual arguments on the physical, ethnographic, and religious environment to which Christianity was introduced, he develops his history around the "nodes" of the genesis of the Thomas Tradition—the introduction and development of Pfarangi and Padroado Catholicism of the early-modern era, the developments of evangelicalism from early-modern continental pietism to the broad array of modern evangelicals that traveled alongside modern European empires—and finishes in the postcolonial era focusing on developments in the various Indian Churches and Pentacostalism. Chapter 6, "Evangelical Christians as Missionary Dubashis Conduits of Cross-Cultural Communication," is of particular value in its analysis of Christian practice and belief as embedded in the ethnic identities and historic specifics of a modernizing Europe—traveling alongside and sometimes in opposition to formal imperial economic, political, and military networks—and as re-embedded in and variously [End Page 740] accepted, modified, and rejected in the three communities discussed in this chapter. The analytic approach continues, examining denominational struggles, the contribution made by Christians within formal imperial structures and the field of education, and the criticisms levied by Christian converts against missionaries and Western officials. The mostly southern-focused study is broken by Frykenberg's shift in chapter 14 to a case study of nineteenth-century Adavāsi movements in the northeast of the subcontinent. It might be further developed—as it is, the rather short treatment feels added on to the much more in-depth treatment of the southern half of the subcontinent, which is in no way unsurprising given Frykenberg's expertise. Additionally, the text also could benefit from more detail about Christian communities from the subcontinent in modern diaspora—there are apparently hundreds of Thomas congregations in the United States alone, and that postcolonial development is important. A more serious criticism has to do with any sort of substantive treatment of the gender of imperial structures, faith, and institutional religious practice; the only substantive inclusion of gender focuses on the exceptionalism of Pandita Ramabai, when a more full treatment might have provided a link among structures, identity, and belief throughout the text. The text's notes alone make it an important addition to any library in that they will lead readers to follow up on specific localized studies and perhaps those that allow local voices themselves to be heard, as in the approach taken by editors Todd M. Johnson and Kenneth R. Ross in Atlas of Global Christianity (Edinburgh, 2009). Given all this, Frykenberg's volume provides rich ground, in particular for students of historiography and the Christian study of history; for example, the tension of belief and evidence evident in Frykenberg's rendering of foundation stories of the Thomas Tradition are promising, given additional analysis.

Rhonda A. Semple
Saint Francis Xavier University
Antigonish, Canada


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