A major study project on changes in gender and caste social distinctions among the Indian diaspora Christian communities in the United States will be sponsored by Center for Global Christianity & Mission. The project will compare what has happened in the United States with ethnic and religious identity negotiations in India. The study has been facilitated by a Collaborative International Research Grant under the American Academy of Religion’s International Connections Committee.
This study emerged from the realization that the Christians of India are an important element in the resurgence of Christianity in the Southern hemisphere as well as in the emergent immigrant Christianity in the North. Indians constitute one of the fastest growing Christian groups in the United States, and Indian Church communities in North America provide interesting and significant transnational linkages across the North-South divide from which much can be learned. Hence, a comparative study of the community in the United States and India will provide resources for comparison with the Christian experience of other immigrant groups and minority communities, such as Latino/as and African Americans.
It is generally agreed that Christian communities in India, mirroring their dominant religio-social milieu, have traditionally been hierarchical/patriarchal in character. Women and Dalits (the “Untouchables”) have been marginated and denied access to positions and roles of status and power. At the same time, it seems obvious that there is a blurring of such gender and caste/class distinctions in the North American society to which Indian Church communities have migrated. Accordingly, the principle question to be considered in this study is: Is there evidence that the migrant Indian Church communities are appropriating norms and values in North American society that have the potential of driving the creation of more egalitarian social and faith communities in India and in diaspora?
Two conferences will be organized on the research question – one in Chennai, India during summer this year and the second in Boston, MA in Fall. These conferences are expected to bring together around twenty five scholars each who are familiar with studies on Indian Christian diaspora. From their diverse perspectives, the participants will consider the following questions: (1). Will the Diaspora Church become the Local church? (2). The role of Gender and Caste in the Making of the Congregation; (3). Ecumenical Inclusivity vs. Ethnic exclusivity in the church.
Dr. Jesudas M. Athyal (Visiting Researcher at the CGCM, Boston University School of Theology) will be the Principal Investigator of the project. He will also organize the conference in Boston. Dr. Joshua Kalapati (Professor of Philosophy, Madras Christian College, India) and Dr. Athyal will together organize the conference in Chennai. They will also collaborate to distill the results of the two conferences to provide a response to the main research question.
The information gathered at this project about gender and caste is expected to contribute to wider discussions of gender and religion and the role of caste in South Asian religions.
Jesudas M. Athyal
(Visiting Researcher, Center for Global Christianity and Mission)