Kerala Christian Sainthood: Collisions of Culture and Worldview in South India

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Oxford University Press, Jan 25, 2001 - Religion - 232 pages
Kerala Christian Sainthood is an ethnography-based study that celebrates the multi-vocal function of saints. Drawing on pilgrim anecdotes, shrine practices, official hagiographies, and regional lore, author Corinne Dempsey demonstrates how the business of saints routinely extends beyond their capacity as earthly conduits of miraculous power. Saintly characters described in this book, hailing from the religiously pluralistic south Indian state of Kerala, tend not only to the health and happiness of individual devotees but help craft and express the multiple identities and complex power relations of their devotional communities as well. Throughout the study, Dempsey highlights the traditions of Sr. Alphonsa of Bharananganam (1910-1946) and St. George the martyr, two figures who reflect the many preoccupations of Kerala sainthood. Sr. Alphonsa, native of Kerala and famous for her life of suffering and posthumous power, stands in line to be canonized by the Vatican. St. George, the caped dragon slayer imported to Kerala by Syrian merchants and later by Portuguese and British colonizers, is today partially debunked by Rome. These two figures, while differing dramatically in temperament, nationality, age of cult, and Vatican standing, boast a vast popular appeal in Kerala's Kottayam district. In examining Sr. Alphonsa and St. George, Dempsey shows how Kerala's saint traditions reflect devotees' hybrid identities in both colonial and postcolonial times. This ethnography of Christian sainthood within a Hindu cultural context, of "foreign" traditions adopted by native practice, and of female sanctity negotiated through patriarchal expectation is poised at a number of intersections. Dempsey provides not only a comparative study of cultures, religions, and worldviews, but also a unique grounding for contemporary ethnographic, post-colonial, and feminist concerns.

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Christianity came to Kerala through Persian missionaries. Persian missionaries took the land route and established churches in Afghanistan, Baluchistan and from there to India, concentrating on southern areas of Mylapore and Kodungalloor. Converts were all local people. When the Portuguese came to Kerala, they found native Christians were using Syriac liturgy and therefore called them Syriac Christians to distinguish them from Latin Christians who used Latin liturgy. Both Syriac Christians and Latin Christians were local converts. Syrian Christian is a misnomer, the word 'Syriac' evolved into 'Syrian; as years went by. Syrian Christians live in the Middle East, in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.  

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This book makes for an interesting read --- at bed-time, perhaps, when the critical mind is not to be engaged or taxed.
This author's statements must be taken with a copious dose of salt. She
possesses only a superficial understanding of the topics she deals with, and repeats some commonly-held---but ultimately fallacious---misconceptions.
This is not a very scholarly work, and should not be regarded as such.


Kerala Gods Own Country
Me St George and Other Foreigners
Siblings and Other Metaphors for ChristianHindu Relations
Calamity Management and the Role of Sacred Ambivalence
The Life and Cult of Sr Alphonsa A Celebration of Complexity and Paradox
Of US Angels and Ethnographers

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Page vii - The anthropologist and the historian are charged with representing the lives of people who are living or once lived, and as we attempt to push these people into the molds of our texts, they push back.

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