Christianity in India: The Anti-Colonial Turn

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Christianity in India: The Anti-Colonial Turn | Clara A. B. Joseph

Christianity in India: The Anti-Colonial Turn

Clara A. B. Joseph

Routledge Studies in Asian Religion and Philosophy


March 2019


188 pages

By studying the history and sources of the Thomas Christians of India, a community of pre-colonial Christian heritage, this book revisits the assumption that Christianity is Western and colonial and that Christians in the non-West are products of colonial and post-colonial missionaries. Christians in the East have had a difficult time getting heard—let alone understood as anti-colonial. This is a problem, especially in studies on India, where the focus has typically been on North India and British colonialism and its impact in the era of globalization.

This book analyzes texts and contexts to show how communities of Indian Christians predetermined Western expansionist goals and later defined the Western colonial and Indian national imaginary. Combining historical research and literary analysis, the author prompts a re-evaluation of how Indian Christians reacted to colonialism in India and its potential to influence ongoing events of religious intolerance. Through a rethinking of a postcolonial theoretical framework, this book argues that Thomas Christians attempted an anti-colonial turn in the face of ecclesiastical and civic occupation that was colonial at its core.

A novel intervention, this book takes up South India and the impact of Portuguese colonialism in both the early modern and contemporary period. It will be of interest to academics in the fields of Renaissance/Early Modern Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Religious Studies, Christianity, and South Asia.

Clara A.B. Joseph is Associate Professor of English and Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary, Canada. Her research interests include postcolonial studies, studies in Christianity, literary theory, and literature and ethics.


1 Introduction: the anti-colonial turn

  • Colonialism is Christian: where the East and the West meet
  • The Thomas Christians: a response
  • Were they colonized?
  • Overview and arguments
  • Methodology and significance of the project

2 Prester John of India: imagination first, (con)quest next

  • Imagining a non-Christian India
  • Prester John of India and the discourse of sameness
  • Prester John: a Nestorian heretic?
  • “Which India?” and the discourse of difference
  • The archdeacon of All India

3 The narratives of Gama and Joseph: unsettling the global

  • early modern period
  • Painting empire at the turn of the fifteenth century
  • Fear of “the Moor”
  • Gama and the Indian Christian connection
  • Three readings of Gama
  • “The narratives of Joseph the Indian”: a proto-national account
  • Joseph, the Indian
  • Joseph, the agent
  • On exposing colonial aspirations
  • “Not my cup of tea”

4 The Jornada: why a European travelogue labelled

  • anti-colonial Christians as heretics
  • The other Christian
  • Nestorianizing the Thomas Christians
  • De-Nestorianizing
  • “Let them dress Portuguese”
  • Interpreting the sacrament of confirmation as colonial capitulation
  • Strategizing at the feet of the other
  • A slap in the face
  • Sacrament or strategy
  • Brother-in-arms: expediency versus Christianity
  • Amok: a colonial and postcolonial discourse
  • The Jornada on the amok: Christianizing or colonizing

5 Conclusion and beyond

  • The beyond


Clara A. B. Joseph has the splendid gift of asking challenging questions. In her sweeping study of Christian history in India, she overturns so many familiar assumptions about the rise and growth of Christianity. In particular, she forces us to see the story of Indian Christianity on its own vigorous terms, not as some latter-day import from the imperial West. The book offers a bracing reassessment of our standard ideas about empires, colonialism, and faith.
Philip Jenkins, Baylor University, USA

Clara A. B. Joseph has provided a critical and thoughtful analysis of South Indian Christianity that is routinely absent in many studies of postcolonial and global Christianities. Too long have interpreters of religion, whether political demagogues in India or liberal scholars of culture and religion in the West, simplistically assumed that Christianity in India is yoked to modern European colonialism. Joseph’s book provides the stunning insight that Christians in India fought against European colonialism as Christians.
Susan Abraham, University of California, Berkeley

Christianity in India: The Anti-Colonial Turn, authored by Clara A.B.Joseph is a post-colonial reading of the history of Christianity in India, where the author emphasizes the Christian presence in the Sub-Continent during the last two thousand years. The strong argument running through the pages is that St. Thomas Christians of India attempted an anti-colonial turn in the face of the ecclesiastical and political domination of the Portuguese that was colonial at its core. The contribution of the author is unique as she analyses the Portuguese presence in India as avaricious colonial and not ecclesial, and thus an anti-colonial turn is given to the resistance of the St.Thomas Christians.
Francis Thonippara, Dharmaram College


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