íÈsí Imandars in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Cultural and religious life in Bangladesh is deeply influenced
To a large extent, religious life in Dhaka, the capital of
Worship and Worship Environment of íÈsí Imandars
Both books were placed in the decorated wooden bookstand in
As in Muslim religious culture in general, reading and reciting long
Mehrab would usually deliver a sermon which related to one of the
Besides the recitation of the Kitab ul Mugadesh and the sermons,
Prophethood and the Nature and Person of Jesus
Jesus’ death on the cross is therefore not merely the death of a
In their religious practice and theological reflection, the imandars
1. The fieldwork was carried out in October–December 2002 and
Khrist Bhaktas in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Christians have been present in the south Indian city of Chennai
The group of Khrist bhaktas, “devotees of Christ,” which I had the
The Worship and Worship Environment of Bhaktas
He would then place some fruit, flower garland and a small pot with
When the men and women arrived, they silently seated themselves
The singing of bhajans is not accidental or purely ornamental. It
Sarasvat’s sermons often formed as a discussion on spiritual topics
Communion was also a key element at the meetings. It took place
Dynamic Interpretation of Hindu Ritual and Culture
The singing of bhajans draws on the classical Hindu tradition for
Although they share this insight with a number of Hindu bhakti
1. The fieldwork was carried out in October–December 2002 and
Christianity has been present in the South Asian subcontinent for almost two millennia. And although it has been tolerated and even respected as one religion among the numerically larger Islam and the indigenous South Asian religious traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, Christianity has not been endorsed by the majority of the people here.
Furthermore, in contrast to the religious situation in Europe, religions have never lost their public role in South Asian society. Conversion from one religion to another carries strong social connotations and has—or is imagined to—influence not only the individual but the whole community. Religious identity thus still plays a fundamental role in the self-understanding of most people and communities in South Asia. This also holds true for Christian identity. But how exactly does Christianity interact with other major religious traditions and how does this interaction affect Christian identity?
The interaction between religions and religious identities can be studied in numerous ways; to the right, I have presented two case studies of theology and religious identities among believers in Christ from Muslim and Hindu backgrounds. Here, I attempt to say something more general on: (1) how conversion to Jesus as Christ results in what I would term a contextual religious identity, (2) local theologies and (3) what we can learn from these marginal groups in the global Christian community.
Are the íÈsí Imandars and Khrist Bhaktas Really Christians?
The question whether the imandars and the bhaktas are “really Christians” is a theological question which cannot be determined historically or phenomenologically (the study of phenomena). As a researcher, my view into the real nature of things is limited and only God knows believers’ hearts. Therefore, my approach in dealing with íÈsí imandars and Khrist bhaktas has been an attempt to describe and analyse how they reach their faith in Jesus as Christ on a number of related levels.
The very terms which they used to designate themselves is quite revealing for their self-understanding: the believers from Muslim backgrounds termed themselves íÈsí imandars, that is, “those faithful to Jesus,” and the believers from Hindu backgrounds called themselves Khrist bhaktas, that is “devotees of Christ.” They are self-consciously not “Christians,” although their religious faith shares a deep family resemblance to the larger Christian community.
The imandars’ and bhaktas’ theological understandings centre on an existential, Christological claim to truth. Only Jesus—not Christians or Christian churches—is said to be unique and exclusive; he is viewed as the personified criteria of humanity and divinity by which one must let oneself be corrected, guided and inspired. It is true that the imandars and bhaktas do not always conceptualize their existential commitment to Jesus with terms from the Christian theological tradition; however, the fundamental relational nature of their commitment to Jesus as truly divine and truly human should not be doubted.
In their commitment to and understanding of Christ, it seems that the believers engage in a reinterpretation of themselves and their past religious traditions. This reinterpretation takes place through a “Christological lens;” that is, through their understanding of and commitment to Jesus as Christ. I believe that the reason why the believers do not simply adopt Christianity wholesale (but include forms and elements from their own past traditions) is the question for meaning of their own past as well as of Christianity.
What Can We Learn from the íÈsí Imandars and Khrist Bhaktas?
Both groups of believers are marginal compared to the number of Christians in institutionally-established churches. However, to understand transformation of Christian identity accompanying the globalization of Christianity and the interaction between religious traditions, a study of exactly these marginal groups is helpful because they place themselves in a cultural and religious cross-pressure where the questions of a contextual religious identity and local theologies become crucial.
The religious identities resulting from this cross-pressure do at one and the same time share fundamental insights into the nature and work of Jesus Christ with the global Christian community and differ in terms of form and concepts.
The religious life of the imandars and bhaktas is surely a bricolage, a mixture between Christian theological ideas and forms from other religious traditions; however, contrary to simply denoting a dilution of Christianity into inauthentic or “syncretistic” forms, I would argue that the practice of the imandars and bhaktas could be viewed as new and creative manifestations of Christianity in a global age. I believe that there is a theological point in the imandars’ and bhaktas’ identification of the relation to Jesus Christ as central and essential and in their rather free interpretation of culture and symbols revolving around this fundamental relation.
From this perspective, one can conclude that the resemblance with the larger Christian tradition and community ensures Christian identity. At the same time, the differences enlarge our understanding of what actual and lived Christian life and Christian theology might include in globalized Christianity. There is a multitude to Christianity in its global age which we in the West are only beginning to realize.