Vernacular Catholicism, Vernacular Saints

Selva J. Raj on "Being Catholic the Tamil Way"

Edited by Reid B. Locklin

Subjects: Anthropology Of Religion, India And South Asian Studies, Asian Studies, Comparative Religion, Religion
Paperback : 9781438465043, 318 pages, January 2018
Hardcover : 9781438465050, 318 pages, April 2017

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Bindu Madhok

Editor’s Introduction
Reid B. Locklin

Hiding Behind the Lens: Fieldwork and Friendship with Selva J. Raj
Amanda Randhawa

1. Being Catholic the Tamil Way
Selva J. Raj

Part I: Vernacular Catholicism in Context

2. The Story of Christianity in Tamil Nadu
Michael Amaladoss, S.J.

3. Two Models of Indigenization in South Asian Catholicism: A Critique
Selva J. Raj

4. The Ganges, the Jordan, and the Mountain: The Three Strands of Santal Popular Catholicism
Selva J. Raj

Part II: Health, Healing, and Fertility

5. Shared Vows, Shared Space, and Shared Deities: Vow Rituals among Tamil Catholics in South India
Selva J. Raj

6. Transgressing Boundaries, Transcending Turner: The Pilgrimage Tradition at the Shrine of St. John de Britto
Selva J. Raj

7. An Ethnographic Encounter with the Wondrous in a South Indian Catholic Shrine
Selva J. Raj

Part III. Status and Humor, Competition and Communion

8. Public Display, Communal Devotion: Procession at a South Indian Catholic Festival
Selva J. Raj

9. Serious Levity at the Shrine of St. Anne in South India
Selva J. Raj

10. Dialogue “On the Ground”: The Complicated Identities and the Complex Negotiations of Catholics and Hindus in South India
Selva J. Raj
Part IV. “Being Catholic the Tamil Way”: Responses and Reflections

11. Comparative Transgressions: Vernacular Catholicisms in Tamil Nadu and Kerala
Corinne G. Dempsey

12. Vernacular Christianities: Tamil Catholics and Tamil Protestants
Eliza F. Kent

13. Extending Selva J. Raj’s Scholarship to Hindu American Temples: Accommodation, Assimilation, and a Dialogue of Action
Vasudha Narayanan

14. Reinventing “Classical” Indian Dance with or without Indigenous Spirituality in Three Contemporary “Secular” Continents
Purushottama Bilimoria

Wendy Doniger

Postscript: The Tie That Binds
Selva J. Raj


A collection of Raj’s groundbreaking ethnographic studies of “vernacular” Catholic traditions in Tamil Nadu, India.


Finalist for the 2018 Best Book in Hindu-Christian Studies presented by the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies

At the turn of the twenty-first century, Selva J. Raj (1952–2008) was one of the most important scholars of popular Indian Christianity and South Asian religion in North America. Vernacular Catholicism, Vernacular Saints gathers together, for the first time in a single volume, a series of his groundbreaking studies on the distinctively "vernacular" Catholic traditions of Tamil Nadu in southeast India. This collection, which focuses on four rural shrines, highlights ritual variety and ritual transgression in Tamil Catholic practice and offers clues to the ritual exchange, religious hybridity, and dialogue occurring at the grassroots level between Tamil Catholics and their Hindu and Muslim neighbors. Raj also advances a new and alternative paradigm for interreligious dialogue that radically differs from models advocated by theologians, clergy, and other religious elite. In addition, essays by other leading scholars of Indian Christianity and South Asian religions—Michael Amaladoss, Purushottama Bilimoria, Corinne G. Dempsey, Eliza F. Kent, and Vasudha Narayanan—are included that amplify and creatively extend Raj's work.

Reid B. Locklin is Associate Professor of Christianity and the Intellectual Tradition at St. Michael's College, University of Toronto. He is the author of Spiritual But Not Religious? An Oar Stroke Closer to the Farther Shore and Liturgy of Liberation: A Christian Commentary on Shankara's Upadeśasāhasrī, as well as the coeditor (with Mara Brecht) of Comparative Theology in the Millennial Classroom: Hybrid Identities, Negotiated Boundaries.


"…a fine volume about the interaction between Hinduism and Christianity in South India." — from the Afterword by Wendy Doniger

"Raj's work was a timely intervention that not only filled the long existing void in the scholarship of Indian Christianity but also added news pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of the complex reality of Indian Christianity as a lived religion." — Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies

"…this volume fittingly honors Raj … it showcases a fascinating body of fieldwork and descriptive writing on Catholicism lived and practiced as a minority religion in majority Hindu South India. The essays are rich in concrete detail … Regarding both practice and theory, this volume will enrich many a class on Asian Christianity and interreligious dialogue today." — Horizons

"No doubt, Raj's scholarship and ethnographic studies will deeply impact the study of everyday expressions of Christianity in India and the religiosity of ordinary people, and this volume is an important contribution toward this end." — Reading Religion