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A Matter of Belief

A Matter of Belief: Christian Conversion and Healing in North-East India

Vibha Joshi
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    A Matter of Belief
    Book Description:

    'Nagaland for Christ' and 'Jesus Saves' are familiar slogans prominently displayed on public transport and celebratory banners in Nagaland, north-east India. They express an idealization of Christian homogeneity that belies the underlying tensions and negotiations between Christian and non-Christian Naga. This religious division is intertwined with that of healing beliefs and practices, both animistic and biomedical. This study focuses on the particular experiences of the Angami Naga, one of the many Naga peoples. Like other Naga, they are citizens of the state of India but extend ethnolinguistically into Tibeto-Burman south-east Asia. This ambiguity and how it affects their Christianity, global involvement, indigenous cultural assertiveness and nationalist struggle is explored. Not simply describing continuity through change, this study reveals the alternating Christian and non-Christian streams of discourse, one masking the other but at different times and in different guises.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-673-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps, Tables and Diagrams
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xxii)
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  7. Glossary
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  8. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxix-xxx)
  9. Introduction: Christianity and the Struggle for Well-being
    (pp. 1-14)

    Whatever its origins, religious essentialism, or fundamentalism as it is normally known, claims absolute knowledge. Its clerics base their authority on it. Dogmatic assertions harden membership barriers between religious communities, limiting voluntary movement in and out of them. Yet, for many people, conversion to a particular religion may seem the only route to a better life. There is a tension between long-term loyalty and the chance to join another religion. This tension has recurred at different times and places throughout the world. It became especially salient at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the era of so-called globalization,...

  10. Chapter 1 A Mountainous State
    (pp. 15-50)

    We can think of social change as concurrent streams of different length, pace, volume, intensity, intersection, divergence and convergence. Viewed in this way, the pattern of a region’s history is uniquely complex, yet reducible to broad generalizations through comparison with other regions. The experiences of the Naga, and of the Angami people among the Naga, thus differ in detail from those of, say, the Mizo and their constituent sub-groups, while all share in the distinctiveness of north-east India as a contested buffer zone between India itself and Burma and China. Some common effects include the colonial, postcolonial and, for want...

  11. Chapter 2 Classifying Spirit and Sickness
    (pp. 51-80)

    It has long been established in anthropology that in many small-scale, pre-industrialized societies an aetiology of disease and illness is commensurate with, or at least related to, cosmology and concepts of body and soul (for examples, see Evans-Pritchard [1956] 1962; Desjarlais 1990, 1992, 1994; Devisch 1993; Foster 1976; Good 1994; Kleinman 1980; Boddy 1989, 1994; Steedley 1988; and Lock 1993). Thus, to talk of sickness and misfortune is also to talk of a person’s dislocated place in a world that jointly comprises what we translate as society, nature, morality and an afterlife or para-life. It has also been observed that...

  12. Chapter 3 Religion of Practice
    (pp. 81-122)

    It is significant that the termnanyüis translated by English-speaking Angami as both religion and ritual, this latter being its primary and pre-Christian sense.¹ We can say therefore that the Angami animistic pantheon described as moral discourse in the previous chapter is demonstrably a religion of practice in its focus on ritual activity. This is not to say that it excludes meditation on abstract moral concepts or on personal dilemmas of life and death. Indeed, the Angami I have spoken to claim to be the philosophers among the Naga, and say that such ‘inner’ thoughts are both experienced, shared...

  13. Chapter 4 Traditional Healers
    (pp. 123-158)

    The role of ‘shaman’ figures prominently in many studies of traditional healers. Given the diversity of characteristics covered by the term, it has something of the status of a religious odd-job word. Of Tungus origin, and with a literal meaning of ‘one who is excited, moved or raised’, it is most commonly used to describe healers who divine through inspiration and/or undertake a supernatural journey or an ecstatic trip to another world (Eliade 1974; Atkinson 1992; Lewis 1989; Hoppál and Sadovszky 1989; Peters 1981). Eliade (1974) distinguishes the shaman from other practitioners on this basis. However, the studies of inspirational...

  14. Chapter 5 A Brief History of Christian Evangelization in the Naga Hills
    (pp. 159-192)

    In order to trace and understand the conversion to the Christian faith among the Angami, and the challenges it posed to indigenous sociocultural and religious identities, we need to return to the three major historical events that have affected the Angami since the mid-nineteenth century. These are the annexation of the area by the British, the coming of the American Baptist missionaries, and the Battle of Kohima during the Second World War. They together constitute a historical nexus of developments which were sometimes conflicting and sometimes mutually reinforcing, but always benchmarks used for making contrasts between precolonial, colonial and postcolonial...

  15. Chapter 6 Contemporary Christianity and the Healing Spirit
    (pp. 193-222)

    Contemporary Christianity in Nagaland is the story of how the long monopoly of the American Baptist Church gave way to new denominations. People converted and switched allegiance from one denomination to another. Differences and similarities between denominations are especially evident when we look comparatively at their liturgies. This denominational diversity helps to explain the recent proliferation of charismatic churches, as among the Angami. At the same time, Christian communal celebrations now take place in Kohima in which it is clear that aspects of traditional practices have become integral to such Christian celebrations.

    The American Baptist missionary monopoly in the Naga...

  16. Chapter 7 Church and Healing
    (pp. 223-246)

    The emphasis on healing that characterized the original introduction of Christianity to the Naga has become greater. As new church denominations have proliferated, there has been a widening of healing practices, with each church seeking to offer its own kinds of relief from suffering.¹ Despite such diversity, the different healing methods converge sufficiently to allow people generally to agree on diagnoses and treatments, as will be evident from a concluding case study in this chapter of a young woman thought to be suffering from demonic possession. Beginning with the Revival Church in Nagaland, healing is through prayer and the laying...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 247-258)

    This book has focused on the Angami Naga through the ‘looking glass’ of religion and healing, and the long journey from animism to Christianity. It began with religious strife in the light of diversity, and now ends by describing a turmoil in which people seek refuge in healers and look to the church to bring a long-lasting peace that would heal the community of the violence inflicted on it by outsiders, as well as by its own people.

    In pointing up the struggle between acceptance, rejection, or Christian accommodation of traditional healing methods, the narratives of sickness and their treatment...

  18. Appendix 1 Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 259-266)
  19. Appendix 2 Inscription on the Stone Tablet in Upper Chajouba Village
    (pp. 267-268)
  20. Appendix 3 Angami Calendar (khrü phrü)
    (pp. 269-270)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 271-288)
  22. Index
    (pp. 289-298)