- Masala McGospel:A Case Study of CBN's Solutions Programme in India
When arguing for the need for the church in India to be 'Indianised', veteran American missionary E. Stanley Jones drew a poignant analogy based on North Indian marriage custom.1 After the wedding ceremony, the women friends of the bride, surrounded by musicians, accompany her to the home of the bridegroom. They then usher the bride into the presence of the bridegroom, after which they quietly take leave. That is as far as they are allowed to go. 'That,' says Jones, 'is our joyous task in India – to know Jesus, to introduce him to India and then to retire … to trust India with Christ and trust Christ with India. We can go so far. He and India must go the rest of the way' (1925: 160). To what extent have these words, written in the 1920s, been taken seriously by succeeding bands of missionaries and mission agencies in India?
This study looks at a relatively new form of missionary activity in India, trans-border televangelism brought about by satellite technology. There are currently four 24-hour Christian networks that feature televangelists in India. This openness is remarkable in light of growing tensions between Hindu militant groups and Christian missionaries and the deeply negative accusations levelled at the church that conversion to Christianity is part of an 'international conspiracy' to divide India (Dalrymple 1999: 20). Ninety-ﬁve percent of all Indian televangelism programmes are based on the genre of 'straight preaching', that is, they are mainly 15–20 minute sermons recorded during Church services or crusades and edited for television broadcast. Ninety per cent of these programmes originate from overseas countries notably USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand, and 75% are produced in the English language (James and Shoesmith 2006). In secular TV, unlike Christian televangelism, almost 'all imported programmes – talk [End Page 170] shows, cartoons, soap operas, game shows – are 'Indianised', which entails dubbing and local hosting' (Chatterjee 1998). Whilst several Western televangelists have started dubbing their programmes, only 5% of televangelism programmes are reformatted especially for the Indian audience (James and Shoesmith 2006).
Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), an American Christian media agency, has been in India for more than ten years. After years of experimentation and audience research, CBN India has developed an assortment of, what Jonathan James terms 'localised or indigenous televangelism' programmes. One such programme is Solutions, a half-hour magazine-type programme with interviews, real life stories and testimonies hosted by a compeer who weaves in the Gospel message. The present study aims to analyse CBN India's Solutions in order to understand its strengths and weaknesses as seen through the eyes of Church and Hindu community leaders in India. Our particular goal is to investigate from an ethnographic perspective how culturally sensitive and localised the programme is within the Indian context.
Our approach in this study is as follows: ﬁrstly, we delineate the scope, outline the methodology and give an overview of the key terms and concepts related to the study; secondly, we provide a brief overview of televangelism in India and an historical sketch of CBN India; thirdly, we report on a content analysis of Solutions; ﬁnally, we reveal Church and Hindu leaders' regard for the Solutions programme and evaluate the ﬁndings.
Scope and Methodology
A case study approach was used to investigate the extent to which televangelism is localised in India. CBN's Solutions was chosen for this case study because of its success among viewers in both secular and Christian stations and its multi-linguistic appeal. Episode three of Solutions (English version) was chosen as a 'show piece' because, in our opinion, it represents the overall ethos of CBN's programming philosophy.
Interview participants comprised thirty Christian pastors and thirty Hindu leaders from two cities, Mumbai and Hyderabad. Christian pastors were limited to leaders from mainline churches associated with Protestant denomination,2 while Hindu leaders were chosen from the main city temples, as well as from the well known Hindu organisations, such as the Arya Samaj and Ramakrishna Mission.3
The research methodology employed was quantitative as well as qualitative...