Religion, Society, and Power in the Making of Catholicism in Rural South India
This chapter concerns Roman Catholicism in rural Tamil society as the product of shifting socio-political and institutional conditions. It argues that narratives of ‘Christian modernity’ — deepened and made more sophisticated with recent ventures in this field (Robbins 2004, Keane 2007) — have drawn attention away from settings where Christianity was introduced in ways that facilitated its localization within existing social and representational structures; where rather than disrupting existing socio-political arrangements it provided another means for their reproduction. At the same time, it shows how an over-commitment to the idea of cultural continuity fails to detect the ways in which, over time, participation in the realm of ‘Christian religion’ opened space for types of thought and action beyond traditional roles, and altered modes of signification within indigenous systems that were/are socially transformative. The tension between continuity and rupture in the history of Christianity in south India, and the co-existence of apparently antithetical moral traditions and social spaces— the ‘complex of opposites’—is bound up with five hundred years of fraught and shifting understandings of the categories of ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ themselves.
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