ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Evangelisation and Politics in the Naga Hills

Evangelising the Nation: Religion and the Formation of Naga Political Identity by John Thomas, New Delhi: Routledge, 2016; pp xviii+223, 895.

 

In Evangelising the Nation, John Thomas traces the intertwining of religion and nationalism in the process of forging a Naga identity in the hill tracts of North East India. The book offers a detailed historical account, convincingly showing that Naga nationalism should not be aligned too easily with Christianity, as it is a complex movement shaped politically and culturally by multiple interests. Thomas argues that the Naga movement developed from its original resistance to the Indian state project, branching out in multiple directions and creating internal divisions that embraced ideologically distant stances. The book traces these trajectories through the parallel development of a nationalist movement, initially uninterested in Christianity, and the early evangelising and modernising projects of the American Baptist missionaries in late 19th century, initially uninterested in engaging with local politics.

But, religion and nationalism become inseparable in Thomas’s account. Although Christianity would come to play a key role as catalyst for Naga nationalism, solidifying and expanding the movement, it also came at a heavy price that the nationalist movement had to pay dearly. The political project of emancipation was soon to be distorted by one of spiritual liberation promoted by zealous missionaries who prioritised the religious over the political. In this way, foreign missionaries were all too eager to abide by the British project of colonial domination, postponing and occasionally betraying the nationalist ambitions of their burgeoning flock. Chapter 1, “The Original Sin,” examines this early part of the arrival of Christianity amongst the Naga tribes, describing how ethnocentrism and racism—mixed with theological concepts of sin and salvation—combined to guide the missionary project of the American Baptists. These missionaries had very different objectives from those of the British, but they shared their view of the Naga tribes being “uncivilised” and “degraded.” For Thomas, this history represents a veritable original sin, and no matter how Christianity would come to forge a sense of common identity amongst the Nagas in later years, the weight of this burden should not be ignored.

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Updated On : 15th Feb, 2019

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