My project proposes to use the tools of visual ethnography (documentary film) to explore the ritual life and everyday prayer practices of the hugely diverse and rapidly expanding Pentecostal-Charismatic Christian (P/c) congregations in the Indian city of Mumbai. Scholars have noted the dramatic expansion in recent decades of P/c churches across the globe – particularly in the so-called “global south,” where the movement has been particularly dynamic, accounting for the lion’s share of an estimated 9 million new converts every year. Since everyday prayer practices are intertwined in complex ways with the socio-economic, cultural, and geographic contexts within which people live their lives, the event of conversion, which involves a change in prayer practices, has implications not only for religious life, but for nearly every other aspect of daily life as well. My project will explore the remarkable expansion (through conversion) of P/c congregations in Mumbai in this context, using documentary film to look at how new and varied forms of prayer practices are transforming the everyday lives of “Mumbaikars.”
While the terms “Pentecostal” and “charismatic” are popularly used to refer to a wide variety of Christian traditions, following Robbins (2004), I use the term P/c to refer to churches that share a doctrinal emphasis on the individual, ecstatic experience of receiving the “gift of the spirit”—sometimes called being “born again.” Since this experience is believed to be available to everyone, even non-Christians, evangelism and conversion (through ecstatic experience of receiving the Spirit) are central components of P/c prayer experience and practice. Building on this idea, my project will focus on these two related aspects of P/c practice: the ecstatic experience of worship and prayer that is so central to the everyday P/c life, and the evangelism and conversion that happen by means of—and are an integral aspects of—prayer.
As a Mumbai-based film maker, my interest in pursuing these questions is both intellectual as well as civic—seeking to contribute to public life both in my own city as well as internationally. The spread and proliferation of P/c Christianity in Mumbai over the past two decades have paralleled the rapid and dramatic changes comprising “globalization”—changes that are not only economic or technological, but that have also had enormous impacts on social and cultural lives of Mumbaikars. Does the spread of P/c Christianity in Mumbai represent a homogenization of cultural or religious practice accompanying globalization? Or rather do varied forms of P/c prayer evidence culturally embedded, “indigenous” ways in which modernity is articulated? That is, how does the rapid spread of P/c prayer practice relate to (or articulate) ways of navigating, engaging in, or making sense of the tectonic shifts that have accompanied globalization? Despite the rapid growth of P/c Christianity in Mumbai (a city that remains overwhelmingly Hindu), it is still a little-understood phenomenon, barely registering in the city’s intellectual and cultural life.
The intellectual impetus of the research is to explore prayer not only as a reflection or instantiation of particular beliefs, but rather to probe at the ways in which prayer works as a social technique: how do prayer practices become embedded in and mediate other aspects of social and everyday life? How does prayer re-configure people’s moral world? How do everyday prayer activities impact people’s ideas about the future, reorienting (and perhaps straining) relations with families and communities? To what extent, and in what ways, do new prayer activities generate a changing sense of responsibility about whether and how to engage in public life? And finally, how do the various activities comprising “prayer” produce new ideas about people’s hope for future—for themselves, their communities, their city, or the world?