Hinduism Bhakti and Christian Missions
by
Arun W. Jones
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0231

Introduction

Both bhakti and Christian missions have a long history in India, dating back to the beginning of the Common Era (or perhaps before, in the case of bhakti). The earliest text that uses bhakti as a technical term, describing it as a path for salvation, is the Bhagavad Gita, which many scholars date to the 1st century ce. On the other side, the most ancient Indian Christian traditions date their origins to the arrival of the missionary St. Thomas in 52 ce, although historians are more confident assigning a somewhat later date, perhaps the 3rd century, to the genesis of Indian Christianity. The St. Thomas or Syrian Christian communities were nourished for well over a millennium by fellow believers from Mesopotamia. The Roman Catholic Church commenced the first Western (as opposed to Middle Eastern) Christian missions to India around the year 1500. Protestants began missions to India around 1700, sponsored by the king of Denmark. The advent of Pentecostal and Charismatic missions, which were initiated by Indian Christians, can be dated to approximately 1900. While the first Western Christian missionaries were Europeans, Indians have always been deeply involved in the missionary movement, and were actually more effective and successful than Europeans in mission work. Almost all contemporary Christian missionaries in the subcontinent are Indian. Due to the nature of scholarly literature on bhakti and Christianity, this bibliography focuses on the interaction between bhakti and Western Christian missions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal/Charismatic. Definitional problems immediately present themselves when one starts to delve into this literature: How are bhakti and Christian missions to be identified? Indeed, the understanding of neither has been static for the past five centuries; both have been variously interpreted by those who have practiced and studied them. The multiplicity of definitions and perceptions continues, and even proliferates, today. For the purposes of this article, bhakti will be understood as devotional movements with origins in Hinduism, but permeating—and being influenced by—other religious traditions in India. Bhakti places an emphasis on the affective dimensions of religious devotion, and on popular religiosity. Christian missions will be understood as the many and diverse attempts—with varying degrees of success and a variety of positive, negative, and mixed results—to spread Christian beliefs, practices, and benevolence in every human culture and language. Both bhakti and Christian missions involve practices of body, mind, and emotions. This bibliography is restricted to English-language materials. Moreover, it does not employ diacritical marks except when they are included in titles of works.

Overviews and Analyses of Bhakti and Christian Missions

There have been surprisingly few scholars who have tried to survey the many attempts that persons involved with Western Christian missions have made to engage bhakti. Part of this may be due to the fragmented nature of Christian missions. Until late in the 20th century, for example, Roman Catholics and Protestants scarcely cooperated with each other, often seeing each other as competitors, and at best trying to steer clear of one another. Similarly, over the course of the 20th century, liberal and evangelical Protestants increasingly avoided each other, as their theological agendas diverged. A second reason that there are few surveys of the long interaction between bhakti and Christian missions is that both bhakti and Christian missions have tended to place an emphasis on vernacular, local religion. In a country that is as large and diverse as India, overarching studies of religion requiring a knowledge of what is happening on the ground are therefore difficult to accomplish. Scholars who have focused on the literature of one person, such as Kabir, or one issue, such as missionary interpretations of bhakti, have had more success in surveying the literature on bhakti and Christian missions. Alphonse 1990 and Thompson 1990 both sketch a history of Protestant interpretations of bhakti, with Alphonse paying closer attention to conservative evangelical views and Thompson to more liberal Protestant ones. Sharma 1987 (in chapters 2, 3, and 4) shows how captivated Western and Western-trained scholars were to their own preconceptions of bhakti, even as they claimed to be working objectively. Constable 2007 works along similar lines in an examination of Scottish missionary interpretations of bhakti in Maharashtra, but Constable also argues that Scottish missionaries adopted certain ideas from bhakti and modified their own Christianity in the process. In contrast to such critical approaches to previous generations of bhakti scholars, Pinch 2003 argues for a much more dialogical understanding of Western and Indian scholars of bhakti during the imperial era, taking seriously their respective (and changing) religious commitments. Finally, Jones 2017 explores how bhakti provided fertile ground for evangelical Christianity in North India.

  • Alphonse, Martin Paul. “The Gospel and Hindu Bhakti: Indian Christian Responses from 1900–1985—A Study in Contextual Communication.” PhD diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 1990.

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    Chapters 3 and 4 provide some important Protestant analyses and appropriations of bhakti in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The discussion includes evangelical Protestant authors that are not treated in other literature.

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  • Constable, Philip. “Scottish Missionaries, ‘Protestant Hinduism’ and the Scottish Sense of Empire in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century India.” Scottish Historical Review 86.2 (October 2007): 278–313.

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    An examination of how Scottish Presbyterian missionaries in Maharashtra construed bhakti poetry to fit their own notions of religion and empire, deeming bhakti to be similar but also inferior to Protestantism. In the process, bhakti also influenced the missionaries’ understanding of their Protestantism, as well as their views of empire.

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  • Jones, Arun W. Missionary Christianity and Local Religion: American Evangelicalism in North India, 1836–1870. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017.

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    A historical study of the ways in which Protestant Christianity of the 19th century built on the thought and practice of bhakti communities in North India.

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  • Pinch, Vijay. “Bhakti and the British Empire.” Past & Present 179 (May 2003): 159–196.

    DOI: 10.1093/past/179.1.159Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A case study of the scholarship on bhakti of Sitaram Bhagvan Prasad and George Abraham Grierson that strongly argues against postcolonial and subaltern-studies readings of the history of the British Empire in India, and takes seriously the role of religion in the thoughts, actions, and motivations of both Indians and Europeans.

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  • Sharma, Krishna. Bhakti and the Bhakti Movement: A New Perspective. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1987.

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    Chapters 2, 3, and 4 provide a trenchant critique of Western—and not simply missionary—definitions and descriptions of bhakti. The scholars George Grierson and Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar are singled out for criticism, in part because they were very influential in shaping 20th-century views of bhakti.

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  • Thompson, A. Frank. “Christian Views of Hindu Bhakti.” In Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Perspectives and Encounters. Edited by Harold Coward, 176–190. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990.

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    The essay focuses mostly on 20th-century Protestant interpretations of bhakti and provides critical analyses of these interpretations. It includes discussions of some South Asian theologians who were also deeply influenced by and involved in Christian mission.

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Bhakti and Roman Catholic Missions

Roman Catholic missions have rarely been included in the English scholarly conversation regarding missions and bhakti. There are several possible reasons. To begin with, until the 19th century, very few European Catholic missionaries were from English-speaking countries, and thus much of their writing is in other languages, such as Latin, Portuguese, Italian, and French. Second, the hostility between Catholics and Protestants up until the 1960s meant that the two sides did not dialogue much with each other; polemics ruled the day. Third, and relatedly, the fact that Britain identified as a Protestant country meant that Catholics frequently operated at a disadvantage in the British Empire. Fourth, Catholics expended great resources in opposing indigenous Syrian Orthodox Christians, trying to get the latter to submit to Roman rule. Fifth, some of the most famous and controversial Catholic adaptations of Christianity to Indian religious cultures involved Brahmins, and not bhakti saints or poets. That being said, a number of Catholics involved in Christian mission did engage—and continue to engage—the bhakti tradition of India, and some of these interactions have been recorded and studied in English. Early in the 17th century the English Jesuit Thomas Stephens wrote a highly popular work in Marathi, known as the Kristapurana, using the vocabulary and emotional registers of bhakti. Stephens 2012 is an English translation of the text. Van Skyhawk 1999 and Falcao 2003 undertake rather thorough discussions of the Kristapurana, while Chakravarti 2017 explores the affective dimensions of the text as bhakti. A century after Stephens, the Italian Jesuit Constant Joseph Beschi immersed himself in both popular and literary Tamil, becoming an outstanding poet and author in that language. Fernando 2016 highlights some of Beschi’s compositions that employ bhakti language and registers. Lorenzen 2002 provides an account of the Capuchin monk Marco Della Tomba’s translation of Hindi bhakti material in the latter half of the 18th century. In the 20th century, the Belgian Jesuit Camille Bulcke undertook a thorough study of Hindi, producing numerous works (including his dissertation) in that language. Bulcke 2010 collects his articles written in English. He was an expert on the stories of Ram. Catholics who may be identified with mission continue to engage bhakti. Bloomer 2018 describes how some Tamil Catholics devoted to Mary view their religious expressions as bhakti, while Clooney 2008 is representative of many of this American Jesuit’s works on devotional Hinduism and Christianity. San Chirico 2014 explores the contemporary Catholic Khrist Bhakta movement in Varanasi.

  • Bloomer, Kristin C. Possessed by the Virgin: Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, and Marian Possession in South India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

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    A description and analysis of three women, living in the state of Tamil Nadu, who are possessed by the Virgin Mary. While not strictly a work by or about Catholic missionaries, it does illuminate some of the dynamics of how contemporary Catholics interact religiously with their Hindu neighbors.

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  • Bulcke, Camille, SJ. Rāmakathā and Other Essays. Edited by Dineshwar Prasad. New Delhi: Vani Prakashan, 2010.

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    Posthumously collected articles that the author wrote in English. Many of them deal with the divine hero Ram, and various characters associated with him.

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  • Chakravarti, Ananya. “Between Bhakti and Pietà: Untangling Emotion in Mārāṭhī Christian Poetry.” History of Religions 56.4 (April 2017): 365–387.

    DOI: 10.1086/690703Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A historical study of the affective dimension of the Kristapurana in its original context. The study argues that there was both a shared affective space between Catholicism and Marathi bhakti, as well as fundamental theological differences between the two.

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  • Clooney, Francis X., SJ. Beyond Compare: St. Francis de Sales and Śrī Vedānta Deśika on Loving Surrender to God. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2008.

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    A work of comparative theology, in which the author provides commentaries on devotional texts from the Hindu and Christian traditions.

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  • Falcao, Nelson, SDB. Kristapurāṇa: A Christian-Hindu Encounter. Anand, India: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 2003.

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    An extended theological interpretation, in contrast to the literary interpretation of Van Skyhawk 1999, of Stephens’ Kristapurana.

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  • Fernando, Leonard, SJ. “Italian Renaissance and Tamil Christian Bhakti Movement: Constant Joseph Beschi as Bridge.” Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection 80.3 (2016): 203–212.

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    Short but helpful introduction to the life and work of the Italian Jesuit Constant (or Constantius) Joseph Beschi, a brilliant scholar of Tamil, a poet and author who produced Tamil works in both high literary and popular bhakti forms.

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  • Lorenzen, David N. “Marco Della Tomba and the Kabīr-Panth.” In Images of Kabir. Edited by Monika Horstmann, 33–43. New Delhi: Manohar, 2002.

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    An introduction to the work of Marco Della Tomba and other Capuchin friars in the 18th century, who created dictionaries and translations of religious works from different Hindi dialects, as well as other Indian languages, into European languages, and left important observations of life in India.

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  • San Chirico, Kerry P. “Between Christian and Hindu: Khrist Bhaktas, Catholics and the Negotiation of Devotion in the Banaras Region.” In Constructing Indian Christianities: Culture, Conversion and Caste. Edited by Chad M. Bauman and Richard Fox Young, 23–44. New Delhi: Routledge, 2014.

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    One of the few studies on the work of Indian Christian missions, this one being the Catholic Indian Missionary Society (IMS). Khrist Bhaktas worship Jesus Christ as their personal deity, and are located sociologically and religiously on the margins of both mainstream Hinduism and Christianity.

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  • Stephens, Thomas S. J. Kristapurana of Father Thomas Stephens, S.J. (1549–1619). Translated and edited by Nelson Falcao. Bengaluru, India: Kristu Jyoti Publications, 2012.

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    After an introduction explaining the context and author of the Kristapurana, the book provides a line-by-line translation of the Marathi in two columns per page, with the Marathi (in Roman script) in one column and the English translation beside it.

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  • Van Skyhawk, Hugh. “‘… in this bush land of Salsette …’: Father Thomas Stephens and the Kristapurāṇa.” In Studies in Early Modern Indo-Aryan Languages, Literature and Culture. Edited by Alan W. Entwistle and Carol Salomon, 363–378. New Delhi: Manohar, 1999.

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    An analysis of the Kristapurana, including its historical context and reception, its content and literary form, religious syncretism in the work, and its possible interpretations in its original context.

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Protestant Missions and the Scholarly Engagement with Bhakti

The first wave of Protestant missionaries to India arrived in the 18th century from Germany and worked in South India. Generally speaking, they were open to studying, learning from, and appreciating the Indian cultures and people among whom they lived. In contrast, their British and American successors in the first half of the 19th century tended to be strongly critical of Hinduism. Protestant missionary attitudes started to change in the latter half of the 19th century, as new scientific approaches to the study of religion emerged in Europe, and as missionaries learned more about Hindu texts, practices, beliefs, and philosophy. Moreover, missionaries had largely failed in their task of converting Indians to Christianity, and they came to realize that a sympathetic rather than antagonistic approach to Hinduism (and Islam) would make Indians more receptive to their message. As they studied bhakti, many missionaries and Indian Christians recognized that there was much in common between their own versions of Christianity and the theology and practice of bhakti. It was in the context of a more appreciative attitude to Hinduism that missionaries began to undertake scholarly work on bhakti poets, poetry, practice, and communities, and found much that they could approve of and appreciate. Indian and European scholars of bhakti in the orbit of Christian missions lived in the tension of being both advocates of the Christian faith and objective scholars. On the one hand, they would not give up their contention that Christianity—or at least Christ—was God’s true self-revelation to humanity. On the other hand, they wanted to study Hindu bhakti on its own terms, understanding and appreciating it for its own insights and values. The tension produced work that was to varying degrees both apologetic and respectful of the other. Moreover, over the course of their studies, Christian scholars often changed their minds and attitudes about their subject. There were three types of literature that missionaries and Indian Christians involved in mission produced through their engagement with bhakti. First, they started to write historical, theological, and literary studies of bhakti literature, poets, and communities. Second, they undertook translations of bhakti texts. Finally, realizing that there was much in common between the varieties of “heart religion” of both Hinduism and Christianity, Protestants started to use bhakti as a means to convey the message of Christianity.

Missionary and Indian Christian Analyses of Bhakti Theology and History

It was in the Christian study of bhakti literature and theology that the tension between the desire to promote their own religion and the desire to study other religious traditions with objectivity became most evident in the work of many Christian scholars associated with missions. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, almost as a rule, Christian scholars asserted that despite the religious and social value of bhakti, it was inferior to Christianity. By the last third of the 20th century, bhakti was being studied on its own terms, and if there was comparison between religious traditions, it was not in order to assert the superiority of Christianity. One of the great debates in the latter half of the 19th and first decades of the 20th century was whether Christianity had in fact given rise to bhakti. This theory had been first put forth in the 1860s by German scholars, and one version of it is articulated in Garbe 1913. Although he at first agreed with the theory, due to vigorous counterarguments, George Grierson changed his mind, asserting in Grierson 1908 that the origins of bhakti were probably autochthonous, even though bhakti was later influenced by Christianity. Grierson, although not a missionary, was a committed Christian, and he was considered by many in his day as the preeminent scholar of bhakti. He articulates his views in Grierson 1910. Macnicol 1915, Appasamy 1970, Carman 1974, and Carman 2005 show how the Christian scholarly approach to the theology and philosophy of bhakti changed over the course of the 20th century. Nicol Macnicol (b. 1870–d. 1952) was a Scottish missionary, A. J. Appasamy (b. 1891–d. 1976) a Tamil scholar, priest, and then bishop of the Church of South India, while John Carman is a scholar who, like Grierson, is not a missionary but is explicit about his Christian commitments. One of the many reasons that Christian missionaries and Indian church workers early became interested in the theology of bhakti is that numbers of Indians from bhakti communities converted to Christianity, and even when they did not, of all the Indians they were some of the most interested in Christianity. Oddie 2013 probes this phenomenon as it occurred in 19th-century Bengal.

  • Appasamy, A. J. The Theology of Hindu Bhakti. Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1970.

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    A theological textbook written for Indian seminary students preparing for ministry. Unlike in his earlier works that were apologetic, the author provides a scholarly account, in the European tradition, of bhakti.

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  • Carman, John B. The Theology of Rāmānuja. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974.

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    A landmark study of one of the most important Hindu theologians whose work is connected to bhakti, focusing on his doctrine of God. It is a study in qualified nondualism, which arguably has greater theological affinities with Christianity than Advaita Vedanta, which for a long time was considered normative Hindu philosophy and attracted much Christian reflection.

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  • Carman, John B. “Bhakti.” In Encyclopedia of Religion. 2d ed. Edited by Lindsay Jones, 856–860. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2005.

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    Coming a century after Grierson 1910, this description illuminates the changes in the Western scholarly consensus regarding the theology and understanding of bhakti.

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  • Garbe, Richard. “Christian Elements in the Bhagavadgita.” The Monist 23.4 (October 1913): 494–516.

    DOI: 10.5840/monist19132345Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of many arguments made by numerous Christian missionary scholars that bhakti was generated due to Hindu contacts with Christians from Mesopotamia and South India early in the first millennium CE.

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  • Grierson, George A. “The Modern Hindu Doctrine of Works.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (April 1908): 337–362.

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    In this article the author, contradicting his earlier hypothesis, argues that the philosophical and theological origins of bhakti predate Christianity, although he believes that Christian thought still had some influence on the development of bhakti.

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  • Grierson, George A. “Bhakti-Mārga.” In The Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics. Vol. 2. Edited by James J. Hastings, 539–551. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910.

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    A highly developed and dense description of bhakti by one of its most eminent European scholars at the turn of the 20th century.

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  • Macnicol, Nicol. Indian Theism from the Vedic to the Muhammadan Period. London: Oxford University Press, 1915.

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    Has chapters on the Bhagavad Gita, traditions of Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shakta bhakti, Nanak and Kabir, and a comparison of bhakti with Protestant Christianity.

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  • Oddie, Geoffrey A. “Old Wine in New Bottles? Kartabhaja (Vaishnava) Converts to Evangelical Christianity in Bengal, 1800–1845.” In Religious Conversion Movements in South Asia: Continuities and Change, 1800—1900. Edited by Geoffrey A. Oddie, 57–77. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2013.

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    A historical study of the earliest North Indian group movements from Hinduism to Protestant Christianity, which involved a Vaishnava bhakti community.

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Christian Comparisons of Bhakti with Christian Theology

As much as mission workers found commonalities between bhakti and their Christian traditions, they also saw differences. Ever since the first scholarly discussions of various forms of Christianity and bhakti, the nature and extent of their commonalities and differences have been debated. Otto 1930, Kulandran 1964, McGlashan 2002, and Hanshaw 2008 are studies exploring the concept of grace in bhakti and Protestant traditions. Klostermaier 1972 focuses on the theology of love in the two traditions. Carman 1968 provides a rich, if technical, discussion of bhakti and faith in Hindu and Christian traditions, while Neill 1974 spends more time dealing with the bhakti rather than the Christian tradition. Scott 1980 uses a history of religions framework to call attention to general similarities between certain bhakti and Christian theological ideas.

  • Carman, John B. “Is Christian Faith a Form of Bhakti?” Visva Bharati Journal of Philosophy 3–4 (1968): 24–37.

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    A careful discussion of the terms bhakti and faith, and the possible relationships between them.

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  • Hanshaw, Mark E. “A Hindu Vision of Grace for a Western Christian Community.” Religion East and West 8 (October 2008): 75–94.

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    A description of the theology of Ramanuja, followed by a more detailed account of his concept of grace, which are compared to the theology and understanding of grace of the Anglican and Methodist 18th-century theologian John Wesley. The author notes many similarities along with important differences, but also urges contemporary Methodists (and other Christians) to rethink their notions of grace in the light of Ramanuja’s theology.

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  • Klostermaier, Klaus K. “Hṛdayavidyā: A Sketch of a Hindu-Christian Theology of Love.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 9.4 (Fall 1972): 750–776.

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    The author is a Roman Catholic priest and was a missionary to India for nine years. This article provides a comparison of the love of God as developed in the Christian and bhakti traditions.

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  • Kulandran, Sabapathy. Grace: A Comparative Study of the Doctrine in Christianity and Hinduism. London: Lutterworth Press, 1964.

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    The author (b. 1900–d. 1992) was a bishop of the Church of Ceylon when this book was published. The work is divided into three sections after an introduction: a discussion of grace in Christian traditions, a discussion of grace in Hindu traditions, and a discussion of points of convergence and divergence in the Hindu and Christian understandings of grace. A far more detailed study than Otto 1930.

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  • McGlashan, Robin. “Amazing Grace: The Experience of Grace in Hindu and Christian Bhakti.” Theology 105.828 (November–December 2002): 424–435.

    DOI: 10.1177/0040571X0210500604Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author, an Anglican priest and Tamil scholar, compares two hymns, one by the Tamil poet Manikkavasagar, and one by the English poet Charles Wesley. He finds much in common, along with some differences.

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  • Neill, Stephen. Bhakti, Hindu and Christian. Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1974.

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    Mostly an examination of South Indian Tamil bhakti traditions, with a brief comparative section at the end of the work where the author teases out differences between South Indian Hindu bhakti and Christian theology.

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  • Otto, Rudolf. India’s Religion of Grace and Christianity Compared and Contrasted. Translated by Frank Hugh Foster. London: SCM Press, 1930.

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    A study of the similarities and differences between the theologies of grace in bhakti and Protestant intellectual traditions. Otto was not a missionary, but he was a Lutheran theologian.

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  • Scott, David C. “Hindu and Christian Bhakti: A Common Human Response to the Sacred.” Indian Journal of Theology 29.1 (January 1980): 12–32.

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    An exploration of some common religious motifs, such as various types of outward actions and then inward actions, in Hindu and Christian devotion.

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Missionary and Indian Christian Studies of Bhakti Poets and Saints

Christian scholars involved in mission in the Indian context studied the work of bhakti poets and saints in order to elucidate the latter’s religious thoughts and understandings. Their motivations for these investigations were varied, but two common criteria seem to have guided their work. One was that the bhakti authors were popular among the general Indian population. By focusing on such figures, Christian scholars could bring to light to a Western public one important aspect of Indian religious and cultural traditions. A second was that the messages and theologies of the bhakti saints and poets were attractive to Christian communities in India. Surprisingly, there was quite a deal of overlap between the two categories of poets: North Indian poets such as Kabir and Tukaram, for example, were (and continue to be) much beloved by Hindus, Christians, and Muslims. Christians involved in missions in Maharashtra studied and were drawn to the poet Tukaram’s poems and thought. Fraser and Edwards 1922 provides not simply a biography of Tukaram, but also places his life and thought in the context of Indian society and the religions of his time, and then evaluates the relevance of his work for their own context. Orr 1947 focuses on another bhakti poet-saint, Dadu, who was active in the 16th century in the areas of contemporary Gujarat and Rajasthan. In Hindi-speaking North India, no bhakti poet is as well-known as the 15th-century saint Kabir, and no poet more intrigued Protestant mission workers (first Indian and then European) because of his iconoclasm. Westcott 1907 and Keay 1931 provide scholarly missionary work on Kabir in context, and on the life of the Kabir panth or community that adheres to his teachings, as these community members interpret them. Vaudeville 1974 delineates, mostly with gratitude, the explicitly Christian scholarly work on Kabir that preceded Vaudeville’s own, while Bandyopadhyay 2002 and Kumar 2006 are much more critical of Christian interpretations of Kabir, contending that they bend and shape the poet’s work for their own apologetic purposes.

  • Bandyopadhyay, Pradeep. “The Uses of Kabīr: Missionary Writings and Civilisational Differences.” In Images of Kabir. Edited by Monika Horstmann, 9–31. New Delhi: Manohar, 2002.

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    A critical examination of how missionary scholars portrayed Kabir as a protagonist of a Protestant version of Hinduism.

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  • Fraser, J. Nelson, and J. F. Edwards. The Life and Teaching of Tukārām. Madras: Christian Literature Society for India, 1922.

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    A study of the poet’s life, work, and theology in light of his social and religious milieu. An appendix raises questions about possible connections between Tukaram’s work and Christianity.

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  • Keay, F. E. Kabir and His Followers. Calcutta: Association Press (Y.M.C.A.), 1931.

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    A much longer historical study than Westcott 1907 of Kabir’s life, literature, and doctrines, and of the development of the community that formed around his work and memory after his death.

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  • Kumar, Akshaya. “Translating Bhakti: Versions of Kabir in Colonial/Early Nationalist Period.” Indian Literature 50.1 (January-February 2006): 149–165.

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    A survey of various translations of Kabir, including some by missionaries, and a discussion of what the translators hoped to achieve.

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  • Orr, William Gladstone. A Sixteenth Century Mystic. London: Lutterworth Press, 1947.

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    The work provides a historical study of Dadu, the 16th-century bhakti poet in the Gujarat-Rajasthan area, and of Dadu’s context. It also provides an examination of some of his salient ideas, a sampling of some of his poetry, and the development of the Dadu panth into the 20th century.

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  • Vaudeville, Charlotte. “The Discovery of Kabīr.” In Kabīr. By Charlotte Vaudeville, 3–26. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974.

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    The chapter provides a generally appreciative history of studies of Kabir until the early 1970s. It includes Roman Catholic as well Protestant, and Indian as well as European Christian, translators and interpreters.

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  • Westcott, G. H. Kabīr and the Kabīr Panth. Cawnpore, India: Christ Church Mission Press, 1907.

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    A study of critical scholarship that attempts to establish the historical life, teaching, and writings of Kabir, along with the communities (panth) that grew out of his words and work.

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Christian Translations of Bhakti Literature

Along with the study of poets, Christians involved in mission translated a number of works of bhakti poet-saints into English. At the heart of this translation project was a desire to share with other Christians the richness of bhakti traditions, which the translators believed shared much in common theologically with the Christian tradition. As in the study of bhakti poets, the first to be translated were those, like Kabir and Tukaram, who were popular in the general population and among Christian communities. One interesting aspect of these translations is that Indian mission workers were at the forefront of the work. They were eager to share the religious heritage of India with other Christians. Chand 1911 represents the first attempt at translating the entire corpus of Kabir’s poems called the Bijak into English, while Shah 1917 provides a much better translation, based on the author’s own publication in 1911 of the Bijak. Fraser and Marathe 1915 marked an attempt to make Tukaram’s poetry known to the public; this translation was not, therefore, strictly word-for-word but contained “accurate paraphrase” to make it more readable. Macnicol 1920 introduced the English-speaking Christian world to some of the other Marathi bhakti saints, although Macnicol too emphasizes the work of Tukaram. Besides Hindi and Marathi, Indian and European mission workers explored and translated the rich heritage of bhakti in the Tamil language. Pope 1900, Kingsbury and Phillips 1921, and Tambyah 1925 offer translations of different Tamil bhakti saints.

  • Chand, Prem. A Translation of Kabir’s Complete Bijak into English. Calcutta: Lalit Mohan Singh, 1911.

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    The Rev. Prem Chand was a Baptist missionary working in Monghyr, Bengal. He based this translation on the edition of the Bijak that he had brought out in 1890.

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  • Fraser, J. Nelson, and K. B. Marathe. The Poems of Tukārāma. London: Christian Literature Society for India, 1915.

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    A selection of the abhangs or poems of the 17th-century bhakti saint, preceded by a brief biography, and grouped under thirty-five topical headings.

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  • Kingsbury, F., and G. E. Phillips. Hymns of the Tamil Śaivite Saints. London: Oxford University Press, 1921.

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    A sampling of hymns from four Saivite saints, Sambandar, Apparaswami, Sundaramurti, and Manikkavasagar, with a brief introduction to the worship of Shiva and explanatory notes provided along with the translations.

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  • Macnicol, Nicol. Psalms of Marāṭhā Saints. London: Oxford University Press, 1920.

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    A collection of 108 poems by some of the most important Vaishnavite poets of Maharashtra. The poets are Jnaneshvar, Muktabai, Namdev, Janabai, Eknath, and Tukaram. By far the greatest number of poems are by Tukaram.

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  • Pope, George Uglow, trans. and ed. The Tiruvāçagam: or, “Sacred Utterances” of the Tamil Poet, Saint, and Sage Māṇikka-Vāçagar. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1900.

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    Translations of fifty-two poems of a famous Tamil saint from the 7th or 8th century CE. The author is considered one of the great scholars of the Tamil language in the 20th century. The work is substantial in depth and size. It includes explanatory notes, the poems in Tamil with their translations, and a lexicon, concordance, and general index.

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  • Shah, Ahmad. The Bijak of Kabir: Translated into English. Hamirpur, India: Ahmad Shah, 1917.

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    Another translation into English of selected verses of Kabir by an Indian clergyman, and an improvement in terms of translation over Chand 1911.

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  • Tambyah, T. Isaac. Psalms of a Saiva Saint, Being Selections from the Writings of Tāyumānaswāmy Translated into English. London: Luzac, 1925.

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    The author was a Tamil Christian layman, yet very close to missionaries. In his preface he writes that the book is his “endeavor to understand a great Hindu poet-saint.”

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Christian Uses of Bhakti

Besides studying Hindu bhakti poets, converts to Christianity produced Christian bhakti poems, songs, and texts themselves. These were Indian expressions of the Christian faith. Appasamy 1966 provides a study of one of the great 19th-century Tamil Christian poets, H. A. Krishna Pillai (b. 1827–d. 1900), whose work had been instrumental in the conversion of Appasamy’s father. Tiliander 1974 is an investigation into the religious terminology that was used to express Tamil Christian theology, both Catholic and Protestant, from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Streeter and Appasamy 1921 explores the theology of a Punjabi Christian sadhu, Sundar Singh (b. 1889–d. 1929). Sundar Singh was well known worldwide in Christian circles, and traveled to Britain, Europe, the United States, and Australia. He had a profound influence on the thought of Appasamy. From western India, the Maharashtran Christian bhakti poet Narayan Vaman (sometimes spelt Waman) Tilak (b. 1861–d. 1919) was very well known in both Hindu and Christian circles in India, having been a poet of renown before his conversion to Christianity. His deep connections to Hinduism, however, left him ambivalent about the church as an institution, and in 1917 he wrote an open letter stating that he did not wish to be associated with any human religious institution. Tilak 1956 provides a rather intimate portrait of the poet by his wife; Winslow 1923 is a more straightforward chronological biography. Both works border on hagiography. Sane 1975 explores some of the theological strands, both Hindu and Christian, in Tilak’s thought. Boyd 2014 provides insight into a Gujarati Christian poet whose work appealed greatly to Christians as well as other Indians. There was a second way in which bhakti was employed by those involved in Christian mission. Both Indian and European Christian mission workers sometimes urged their fellow believers to employ bhakti in order to enliven their own faith. Jones 1925 and Wilson 1928 urged Western missionaries to use bhakti in order to present the Christian faith to Indians. Winslow 1926 argues that bhakti needs to be taken seriously by all Christians, whether or not they are Indian, to revivify and strengthen their faith.

  • Appasamy, A. J. Tamil Christian Poet. New York: Association Press, 1966.

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    A biography, along with some translations of the work of the 19th-century Tamil Christian poet and convert H. A. Krishna Pillai.

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  • Boyd, Robin H. S. “Review of Dhanjibhai Fakirbhai, Songs of the Heart (Sri Hriday Gita).” Studies in World Christianity 20.3 (December 2014): 287–289.

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    This review gives a concise overview of the work of the important Gujarati Christian poet Dhanjibhai Fakirbhai (b. 1895–d. 1967), who used rich Gujarati Hindu religious language, including bhakti, to present the Christian message.

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  • Jones, Eli Stanley. The Christ of the Indian Road. New York: Abingdon Press, 1925.

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    The American Methodist evangelist’s argument is that Westerners cannot adequately present Jesus to Indians; the latter need to interpret Jesus according to their own religious understanding, including bhakti, which Jones uses to translate the word “faith.”

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  • Sane, J. P. “A Johannine Pattern of Bhakti as Found in the Writings of Narayan Vaman Tilak.” In India’s Search for Reality and the Relevance of the Gospel of John: Papers from a Conference Held in Pune in February 1974. Edited by Christopher Duraisingh and Cecil Hargreaves, 122–133. Delhi: I.S.P.C.K, 1975.

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    The author was a minister in the Church of North India. This article studies various aspects of Hindu bhakti theology as it is manifested in Tilak’s poems and hymns, and concludes by comparing them with some themes in the gospel of John.

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  • Streeter, Burnett Hillman, and A. J. Appasamy. The Message of Sadhu Sundar Singh. New York: Macmillan, 1921.

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    Streeter was Appasamy’s teacher at Oxford, and this work explains the thought of arguably the most famous Christian sadhu (renunciant) of the 20th century, who also had a profound impact on the thought of Appasamy.

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  • Tilak, Lakshmibai. From Brahma to Christ: The Story of Narayan Waman Tilak and Lakshmibai His Wife. London: United Society for Christian Literature, 1956.

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    A biography of the Marathi Christian bhakti poet Tilak (b. 1861–d. 1919) by his widow, who provides many personal and familial details.

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  • Tiliander, Bror. Christian and Hindu Terminology: A Study of Their Mutual Relations with Special Reference to the Tamil Area. Uppsala, Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell Tryckeri, 1974.

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    Examines the use of Tamil and Sanskrit words used in the production of Tamil Christian literature, especially the Bible. While the study focuses on a variety of different Tamil terms, it does include specific discussions of bhakti terminology. The author was a Swedish missionary in Tamil Nadu for several decades in the first half of the 20th century.

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  • Wilson, Robert Smith. The Indirect Effects of Christian Missions in India. London: J. Clarke, 1928.

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    The author, though not a missionary, was good friends with them. While in the first part of the book he discusses Christianity’s impact on Hinduism, in the second part he criticizes the Western nature of Christianity in India, and advocates bhakti as an appropriate mode for expressing the faith in the land.

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  • Winslow, Jack C. Narayan Vaman Tilak: The Christian Poet of Maharashtra. Calcutta: Association Press, 1923.

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    A biography of Tilak by a missionary who worked in Maharashtra.

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  • Winslow, Jack C. The Indian Mystic: Some Thoughts on India’s Contribution to Christianity. London: Student Christian Movement, 1926.

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    The author argues that bhakti holds lessons for all Christians, not just Indian ones, in terms of their relationship to God.

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A. J. Appasamy

There is no Christian involved in mission who is more identified with the attempt to propagate Christianity in the form and theology of bhakti as the theologian and church leader Aiyadurai Jesudasen Appasamy (b. 1891–d. 1980). He was brought up in a Christian home, his father having been converted from Shaivism to Christianity at the age of twenty-four. The Tamil poet H. Krishna Pillai was very influential in that process. A. J. Appasamy went to the West in 1915, studying first at Harvard and then at Oxford, where he received a DPhil in 1922. In many ways he drew on Western theology for his understanding of Christianity, but he combined this with a deep love and appreciation for the intellectual bhakti tradition. Another important influence on his life was Sadhu Sundar Singh, who visited Appasamy in 1920 while he was in Oxford. Appasamy returned to India in 1922 and worked as a parish priest, educator, evangelist, advocate for Indian church union, and finally bishop from 1950 to 1959 of the newly formed Church of South India. Despite all his work, Appasamy produced a number of works on Indian Christian theology and the Indian church. Appasamy 1927 and Appasamy 1931 expand on his doctoral dissertation at Oxford, “The Mysticism of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to Hindu Bhakti Literature,” which he completed in 1922. Appasamy 1942 makes the argument that bhakti needs to be the theological mode by which Christianity is understood and propagated in India. Appasamy and Singh 1956 collects some of the work of Sadhu Sundar Singh. Boyd 1991 is a brief but concise introduction to the work of Appasamy, while Dunn 2016 provides a much more extended discussion on the influence of Ramanuja on the bishop’s thought.

Bhakti and Christian Music

The practice of bhakti has usually, if not always, been associated with the making of music. It is interesting that not much work has been done focusing on the aesthetic dimension of bhakti as it has been appropriated by Christians. The works cited below delve into the subject of Christian music as it pertains to Christian mission. Stephen and Popley 1914 offers an introduction to the way Tamil music can be used for evangelism, while Popley 1921 provides rather detailed descriptions of Indian classical music. Sherinian 2014 makes a sharp distinction between classical and folk village music, arguing against the former in favor of the latter, whereas Vethanayagamony 2015 argues that the famous Tamil Christian poet and artist Vedanayagam Sastriar (Shastriar) was equally at home in both types of genres, as well as other kinds of art. Cox 2014 argues that another common distinction, that between the foreign and the indigenous, is actually meaningless in Punjabi Christian hymnody. Finally, Rao 1983 finds that the Telugu hymnal is rich with bhakti theology and themes, which have been imported quite unselfconsciously into Telugu Christian hymns.

  • Cox, Jeffrey. “Sing unto the Lord a New Song: Transcending the Western/Indigenous Binary in Punjabi Christian Hymnody.” In Europe as the Other: External Perspectives on European Christianity. Edited by Judith Becker and Brian Stanley, 149–163. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014.

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    A study of how Punjabi Christians have taken the psalms from the Bible, which were introduced by missionaries, and are using them as “indigenous” hymns of their own.

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  • Popley, Herbert A. The Music of India. Calcutta: Association Press, 1921.

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    A handbook explaining the theory and practice of classical Indian music to Westerners and readers of English.

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  • Rao, R. R. Sundara. Bhakti Theology in the Telugu Hymnal. Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1983.

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    The publication is the author’s dissertation at the University of Wisconsin. Three of the five chapters explore various dimensions of bhakti in Hinduism, while two chapters are devoted to the ways in which bhakti permeates the theology of the hymnal.

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  • Sherinian, Zoe C. Tamil Folk Music as Dalit Liberation Theology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

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    An introduction and exposition of the music of the composer and theologian Rev. J. Theophilus Appavoo, whose mission is to create music for Christian Dalits. His music and lyrics are contrasted to those of the famous Tamil Christian poet and hymn writer Vedanayagam Sastriar, who came from an upper-caste family.

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  • Stephen, L. I., and H. A. Popley. Hand-Book of Musical Evangelism. Madras: Methodist Publishing House, 1914.

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    The introduction gives the rationale for and method of musical evangelism, and the principles of Indian music. The book is in Tamil, except for the introduction.

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  • Vethanayagamony, Peter. “St. Vedanayagam Sastriar and the Literary Inculturation of the Gospel.” Lutheran Forum 49.2 (Summer 2015): 36–40.

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    A succinct biography of a highly regarded Tamil Protestant (Lutheran) poet, author, hymn writer, evangelist, and educator who lived from 1774 to 1864. His opus includes hymns, poetry, plays, and dance dramas, many of which are still popular today. He employed both folk and classical Tamil styles, and wrote works that used poetic forms favored by Hindus of the bhakti tradition.

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Pentecostalism/Charismatic Christianity and Bhakti

Pentecostalism is often said to have originated in a Christian revival in a church on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California, in 1906. However, scholars increasingly subscribe to a theory of polycentric origins of Pentecostalism at the turn of the century. Certainly, late in the 19th century there were Pentecostal movements in South India, and in 1905 there were also Pentecostal movements in Northeast and western India, the year before the revival at Asuza Street. Pentecostalism expresses itself as a fervent, ecstatic form of Christianity. Although it arose out of Protestantism, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity are distinct enough from mainline Protestantism to be considered a Christian tradition of their own. Moreover, Pentecostal styles of worship have penetrated historic Christian traditions such as the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican, where they are called charismatic movements. Because of its emphasis on devotion to God, participation in the godhead (through possession by the Holy Spirit), and ecstatic somatic manifestations, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity may be thought of as a Christian form of bhakti. Pentecostal and Charismatic movements tend to be inherently missionary, seeking outsiders to join them. The most vigorously growing form of Christianity in India today is Pentecostalism. Because of its self-understanding as an antiestablishment religious movement, and because of the social and political context of contemporary India, Indian Pentecostals often face hardships and violence in comparison to other groups of Indians, and even Indian Christians. Jones 2009 gives an overview of Pentecostalism’s social and religious place in contemporary India. Bauman 2015 explores the reasons for violence against Pentecostals; Sahoo 2018 likewise deals with oppression that Pentecostals face, but also studies other social and religious dimensions of Pentecostal communities in Rajasthan. In contrast to Sahoo 2018, which studies Pentecostals in rural areas, Roberts 2016 focuses on Pentecostal churches in an urban slum where Christians and Hindus live together in tight quarters and in overall harmony. Bergunder 2008 and Lukose 2009 provide historical studies of Pentecostal movements in two very different areas of India. Dyer 1907 acts as both a promotion piece and a historical account of two Pentecostal revivals in India at the beginning of the 20th century. Finally, Schmalz 1998 and San Chirico 2012 provide thick descriptions of bhakti and/or Charismatic movements in Varanasi, separated by a time period of two decades, that merge Hindu and Roman Catholic traditions, blurring the boundaries between the two religions.

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