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|Title: ||Lived religion among the rural Paraiyar Christians of South India: an ethnographic study of the social and religious worldviews in Thulasigramam|
|Authors: ||Jeremiah, Anderson Harris Mithra|
|Supervisor(s): ||Koepping, Elizabeth|
|Issue Date: ||26-Nov-2009|
|Publisher: ||The University of Edinburgh|
|Abstract: ||This thesis seeks to present a study of one particular rural Paraiyar Christian
community in Tamil Nadu, focusing on their religious identity and theological
expressions. Such people, more commonly known as Dalits, or Untouchables are a
largely socially marginalised group living within a dynamic and complex social
matrix dominated by the caste system and its social and religious implications. They
are heavily reliant on their landlords (the high caste Hindus) for their wages, food,
and access to resources. The village has two Paraiyar communities, one of which is
Hindu and other Christian, with intermarriage occurring frequently between them.
With one exception, all of the thirty-one Christian families in the village were once
Hindu Paraiyars before converting to Christianity. The first convert to Christianity
was in the beginning of 20th century as the result of the American Arcot Mission.
Fieldwork highlighted various tensions and areas of creativity regarding how
Paraiyar Christians negotiate their lives within a marginalised and oppressed
hierarchical system. Although the study focuses on the Christian community, it can
only do so by examining their wider social context, which is dominated by religious
and caste structures, ascribed and achieved identity, symbols, ritual, and boundaries.
Recent writing within Dalit Theology naturally discusses Paraiyar Christians, but it is
a contention of this thesis that much ‘Dalit Theology’ ignores the social, ritual and
basis of rural Dalit life and thought, an omission which this thesis redresses.
The main body of the thesis is divided in to three parts. The first part presents
a review and discussion of written works on missionary encounters with the caste
system in the church history of south India, as well as Dalit Theological writings.
The second section concentrates on the ethnographic information gathered from eight
months’ fieldwork and analysed under four different themes: understanding Paraiyar
identity, Yesusami and the religious worldview of Paraiyar Christians, the utilisation
of religious symbols and performances to advance social change, and, finally, the
reproduction of social hierarchies among Paraiyar Christians. The final section
attempts to articulate a relevant theological understanding of Dalit Christology using
Gillian Rose’s concept of ‘Broken Middle’.
This thesis does not set out to provide a comprehensive ethnography of this
Paraiyar Christian community, nor does it propose a completely new theological
system. Rather, it attempts to allow for the research subjects themselves to articulate
their own perspectives and opinions regarding what it means to be Christians and
Paraiyars simultaneously. This work allows for flexibility and volatility between the
two identities combined within the Paraiyar Christian community. I argue that this is
only made possible by their fluidity, being able to balance their individual and
communal religious identities - creatively living in the middle of their multiple
|Keywords: ||Dalit theology|
rural Christianity in India
|Appears in Collections:||Divinity thesis and dissertation collection|
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