September 2, 2015

Interview I: Pastor Shekhar Kallianpur

These are excerpts from an interview with Pastor Shekhar Kallianpur. Pastor Shekhar is affiliated with the New Life Fellowship Association and conducts an English-language church service in Juhu, Mumbai. His church is one of the most affluent—many Bollywood actors, athletes, and business families are associated with it. Pastor Shekhar’s church is also actively involved in many crusades, projects such as Power to Change, and various prayer activities in public spaces.

In the following interview, he talks about what it means to be a believer, praying for the city of Mumbai and its citizens. He also comments on India’s anti-conversion laws and discusses how he thinks the believer church’s efforts towards transformation are being misunderstood.

For more details, a complete transcript can be downloaded here.

August 27, 2015

And All God's People Said...: Languages of Prayer in a Global Mega City

The film And All God’s People Said… is an attempt to explore and understand the world of the Pentecostal church in India’s most culturally and linguistically diverse and cosmopolitan city, Mumbai. A significant dimension of Pentecostal practice revolves around the deliberate cultivation of multilingualism, stemming ultimately from the belief that God empowers true believers with the gift of tongues. The film focuses on speech, drawing implicit connections between prayer (speaking to God, often before a human audience) and evangelical efforts that seek to communicate across divisions of language, culture, and class.

In a land where identities are ideologically constructed in terms of place, Pentecostal practice unsettles received national and subnational nativist understandings. The Christian population in India is approximately 2.3 percent of the total population; Pentecostal Christians (or “believers” as they call themselves) are perhaps only 0.1 percent, but they are the fastest growing segment of Indian Christianity. Indeed, they are the only segment that is winning new converts, both from mainstream Christianity and from Hinduism, in any appreciable numbers.

In India, the Christian minority is attacked by Hindu nationalists who believe that Hinduism, as the majority religion, should also be treated as the national religion. Anti-conversion laws have been passed in several Indian states in an attempt to prevent the spread of Christianity and other “foreign” religions, like Islam. And All God’s People Said… tells the story of some of those who do not think in such terms. The film explores the lives of Gauri, Aruna, Raj and Shankar, four first generation Pentecostal Christians in Mumbai. All four of them are from different religious, cultural and economic backgrounds, and all have chosen to convert to Christianity, to be part of the Pentecostal church. During this film they share their life stories, the reasons behind their choices, and how these decisions have changed their lives. Through their stories we get an insight into the Pentecostal churches in the culturally and religiously diverse city of Mumbai.

While working on this film I gathered a substantial amount of audio-video footage which ultimately was not included in the film. I have therefore converted the audio-visual data into an online interactive archive. This archive has free access for those who are interested in knowing more about the believer community in Mumbai. The digital archive includes maps to give an idea of locations at which the footage was shot. The archive includes notes on the various locations and allows the researcher to view extended footage of interviews, prayer meetings, and various prayer activities.

This film was made possible through the Social Science Research Council’s New Directions in the Study of Prayer initiative, with support from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this film are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Social Science Research Council or the John Templeton Foundation.

March 21, 2013

One Step and One Giant Leap Towards Humanity

Kaippatta is located on a hilltop near Mallappally, a tiny town in central Kerala. An aerial view from Kaippata displays the many nearby churches belonging to different Christian denominations. However, the church we were to visit has a unique story to tell. It was in this hilly village that on September 8, 1854, Habel (or a slave named Thaivathan) embraced Christianity in faith and belief.

We climbed the hill in our cab to get a glimpse of that old church of Habel, the first “convert” among the slave castes of Travancore, thinking how difficult it was for the missionaries to reach Kaippatta on that day. In no time, accounts of that eventful day left by the missionary Rev. John Hawksworth spring to our mind: “…The paths through the jungle were indeed converted into streams, so that we had to wade through the water a great part of the way, and it was unpleasant having to wait some hours in our wet clothes.” What began as the baptism of Habel quickly grew into a “mass movement.” By the turn of the twentieth century, the Church Missionary Society in central Travancore counted as members more than 35,000 Dalit Christians, more than half of their total membership. The journey from first baptism proved to be an ordeal for the slave castes, due to upper caste reprisals. Upper caste Syrians twice reduced to ashes the thatched church building first erected at Kaippatta. Yet, the assembled slaves standing among the ashes exclaimed: “It was here we first found the Saviour and here, on this spot, we will worship Him still. They objected to seek the shelter of a neighbouring tree; so the service was held on the spot, which they regard as consecrated ground.” And the saga of prayer and worship continues.