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Reviewed by:
  • Imperial Fault Lines: Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818–1940
  • Kevin Grant
Imperial Fault Lines: Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818–1940. By Jeffery Cox. Standford: Standford University Press, 2002.

Imperial Fault Lines is an important study of Protestant missionary institutions and the development of a hybrid Christianity in the Punjab under British rule. Jeffery Cox sets aside simplistic associations between the bible and the flag to demonstrate that missionaries spent a great deal of their time in laying the groundwork for a Christian community that would survive in their absence. While missionaries clearly participated in the imperial project, it is noteworthy that many influential missionaries regarded the Empire as ephemeral and acknowledged that the future of Christianity depended on the growth and self-governance of indigenous Christian communities. Although, as Cox explains, missionaries and Indian Christians were in many respects engaged in a common enterprise, “fault lines” emerged throughout the Punjabi Christian community as its disparate brethren attempted to answer a basic question: “Can we participate in a shared faith, on the basis of spiritual equality, in an imperial setting?” (16) The imperial setting of the Punjab presented many obstacles to a shared faith and spiritual equality, ranging from economic inequity to conflicts over the conversion of lower castes. Moreover, Cox elucidates theological differences between missions that contributed to fractious competition for converts. What distinguishes this book, and renders it a significant contribution to the history of missions and empire, is the balance that Cox strikes between his meticulous attention to missionary institutions and his discussion of how the great majority of Punjabi Christians developed their own forms of spirituality, piety, and worship beyond the limited reach of pastoral care.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Protestant missionaries in the Punjab began a large-scale program of institution building, which constitutes the central subject of Cox’s discussion. In contrast to historical studies of missionary discourse, such as that of Susan Thorne, Cox asserts, “What missionaries built was in many ways more important than what they said.” (52) 1 For example, although women were marginal figures in missionary narratives, they nonetheless outnumbered male missionaries in the Punjab after the 1890’s. While Cox addresses female missionaries’ well known visits to the Zenana, he also elaborates on their leading roles in mission schools and, especially, hospitals. Cox further demonstrates that while government grants facilitated the steady growth of mission schools after 1870, these grants actually rendered the personnel of these schools multireligious. Given that the faculty of mission schools had to meet government standards in order to receive government grants, government normal schools became the sources of the faculty who could meet these standards. Consequently, by 1890, 70% of 750 mission schoolteachers were not Christian. (196) Finally, Cox explains that race had multiple meanings among missionaries that came to fruition in multiracial institutional settings. (95–96) In representing missionary institutions as predominantly female, multireligious, and multiracial, Cox challenges historians of Empire to reconcile the prevailing interpretations of missionary discourses (as masculine, intolerant, and racist) with evidence of the far more complicated work of missionaries on the ground.

There were great differences between what missionaries said and what Indians did. For example, Indians did not always perceive the separation between missions and the government, however much missionaries stressed this separation in their publications. The institutional co-operation between missions and the government was evident in the Salvation Army’s management of settlements for criminal tribes, and in the Church Missionary Society’s enthusiastic support for military recruitment campaigns during the Great War. Likewise, despite all of their building projects, missionaries could not structure the ways in which Indians understood and practiced Christianity. Cox acknowledges that he cannot represent the many nuances of the hybrid Christianity of the Punjab, but he nonetheless provides an intriguing sense of this hybridity through song. “It is in Punjabi hymnody, rather than in the bureaucratic creations of the missions,” he states, “that one finds the fullest expression of indigenous Punjabi Christianity.” (148) Departing from the standard repertoire of Christian hymns, Indians wrote their own hymns to bhajan and ghazal tunes (110–112). The rich hybridity of Punjabi Christianity could not, however...

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