South Asia’s Christians: Between Hindu and Muslim

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South Asia's Christians: Between Hindu and Muslim | Chandra Mallampalli

South Asia’s Christians: Between Hindu and Muslim

Chandra Mallampalli

Oxford Studies in World Christianity

Oxford University Press

February 2023


368 pages

South Asia is home to more than a billion Hindus and half a billion Muslims. But the region is also home to substantial Christian communities, some dating almost to the earliest days of the faith. The stories of South Asia’s Christians are vital for understanding the shifting contours of World Christianity, precisely because of their history of interaction with members of these other religious traditions. In this broad, accessible overview of South Asian Christianity, Chandra Mallampalli shows how the faith has been shaped by Christians’ location between Hindus and Muslims.

Mallampalli begins with a discussion of South India’s ancient Thomas Christian tradition, which interacted with West Asia’s Persian Christians and thrived for centuries alongside their Hindu and Muslim neighbours. He then underscores efforts of Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries to understand South Asian societies for purposes of conversion. The publication of books and tracts about other religions, interreligious debates, and aggressive preaching were central to these endeavours, but rarely succeeded at yielding converts. Instead, they played an important role in producing a climate of religious competition, which ultimately marginalized Christians in Hindu-, Muslim-, and Buddhist-majority countries of post-colonial South Asia. Ironically, the greatest response to Christianity came from poor and oppressed Dalit (formerly “untouchable”) and tribal communities who were largely indifferent to missionary rhetoric. Their mass conversions, poetry, theology, and embrace of Pentecostalism are essential for understanding South Asian Christianity and its place within World Christianity today.

Chandra Mallampalli is Fletcher Jones Foundation Chair of the Social Sciences at Westmont College and in 2021-22 was Yang Visiting Scholar of World Christianity at Harvard Divinity School. He is the author of Race, Religion and Law in Colonial India (2011) and A Muslim Conspiracy in British India? (2017).



1 The Thomas Christians: Paradoxes of Being Pre-European

2 Jesuits and the Emperor Akbar, 1580-3

3 Cultural Accommodation and Difference in South Indian Catholicism

4 Early European Encounters with India’s Hindus and Muslims

5 The Argumentative Protestant: Religious Exchanges Under British Rule

6 Upper Caste Converts to Protestantism

7 Mass Conversion Among Dalits and Tribals: Rupture, Continuity, or Uplift?

8 Nationalist Politics and the Minoritization of Christians

9 Dalits and Social Liberation

10 Pentecostalism, Conversion, and Violence in India



“In South Asia’s Christians, Mallampalli unfolds an unparalleled panorama: ancient Thomas Christians; waves of Catholic and Protestant missionaries from the West; ever-changing relationships with much larger Hindu and Muslim communities; adjustment and survival under diverse political regimes over the centuries and now too amid the new religious and secular dynamics emerging today. This is an introduction that will intrigue specialists as well.” – Francis X. Clooney, SJ, Parkman Professor of Divinity, Harvard University

South Asia’s Christians is a magnificent book. Mallampalli astutely combines tremendous historical expanse and diverse Christian histories with an in-depth, penetrating analysis of issues that emerge from an epistemic gap between missionary knowledge, faith and conversion. South Asia’s Christians is a research enterprise of enormous purport in the field of Christianity studies.” – Deepra Dandekar, author of Baba Padmanji: Vernacular Christianity in Colonial India.

South Asia’s Christians is a nuanced and readable work of mature scholarship. Mallampalli locates Indian Christianity in multiple contexts-religious, historical, political, and contemporary. This is a splendid book. It will be a classic of both South Asian studies and World Christianity studies. I recommend it very highly and look forward to sharing it with colleagues and students.” – Dana L. Robert. William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor, Boston University

“To write about Christianity in South Asia is one thing, but quite another to write about South Asia’s Christians. A succession of authors” – some of them outstanding

“A grand sweep of indigenous South Asian Christianity, studded with glowing insights into religious border-crossing. The book traces Indian Christians’ checkered social, cultural and political history. We learn of their everyday dialogue as well as conflicts with Hindu and Muslim neighbors. A perceptive introduction to the unique identity-formation of South Asian Christians.” – Felix Wilfred, Editor, The Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia

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