Indian Protestants and their Religious Others: Views of Religious Diversity among Christians in Bangalore

  • Date:
  • Location: Sal IV, Universitetshuset, Biskopsgatan 3, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Yadala Suneson, Anita
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Kyrko- och missionsstudier
  • Contact person: Yadala Suneson, Anita
  • Disputation

This study gives an in-depth insight into ways that ordinary Christians in a multireligious context think about religious plurality. It examines how Indian Protestants reflect upon other religions and upon the situation of religious diversity.

Methodologically, the study relies mainly on qualitative interviews with Pentecostal and Church of South India (CSI) lay members and pastors from Bangalore, south India. The interviews are analysed through thematic analysis.

The study reveals a theological diversity among interviewees. The major differences are found among the clergy, while the views of Pentecostal and CSI lay interviewees show many similarities. The dominant theological perspective is evangelical and this forms an “evangelical lens” that colours attitudes to other religions. Additionally, a general Protestant perspective emerges that reflects a typically Protestant emphasis on Christ and the Bible, as well as a liberal Protestant perspective which focuses on social issues.

Salvation, primarily understood in terms of eternal life for the individual, is central to the ideas interviewees have about the difference between Protestant Christianity and other religions. Perceptions of Hinduism reveal stereotypical views which portray it as an antithesis to Christian faith. Views of Islam are more positive, and similarities with Protestantism are perceived. Attitudes to different Christian traditions, and to Catholicism in particular, illustrate that the line between religious self and other can be drawn also between different forms of Christianity.

An important finding of the study is that the use of religious images is a central issue for these Protestant Christians which affects their views of other religions and that it signals religious otherness to them. The dichotomy between religious self and other refers primarily to salvation and religious efficacy, not to everyday life. As people, Muslims and particularly Hindus are portrayed in a positive light. Interreligious friendship and unstressful everyday interaction characterise interviewees’ depictions of relations with religious others in Bangalore. The religious minority status becomes plainly evident in relation to mission. Interviewees negotiate between an ideal of active evangelism and social considerations. This study reveals that it is possible to combine theological exclusivism in theory with respect for the religious other in practice.