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History of Christianity in India, vol. 5, Northeast India in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

This study by Frederick S. Downs, Professor of Church History at the United Theological College, Bangalore, is a substantial contribution to the history of Christianity in India. It is a very objective and scholarly interpretation of the impact of Christianity in Northeast India.

The main thesis of the book is that the advent of Christianity has helped the tribals of Northeast India to readjust themselves to the new social, political, and cultural situation arising out of the introduction of the British rule and subsequently the independent Indian administration (p. 209). It may be disputed, however, whether that is the only or the main reason why the tribals embraced Christianity in large numbers.

One could suggest several other factors that may account better than Downs's hypothesis for the Christianization of Northeast India, including the connaturality of tribal and Christian values; the search for wholeness; the emphasis on community in Christian and tribal ways of life; freedom in matters of food; comparatively democratic ways of functioning; emphasis on the basic dignity and equality of persons without the burdens of a caste-ridden society; myths and legends similar to biblical accounts of the origin, fall, and redemption of man; the absence of any long theological, philosophical, historical, and liturgical traditions and expressions in tribal religions; and above all the person and figure of Jesus Christ. Surprisingly, the name of Jesus Christ figures hardly ever in the text and not at all in the index.

Sociological interpretation of history, though important, has also inherent weaknesses. Any religious phenomenon, such as the spread of Christianity in a given area, needs to be interpreted from different angles and with different hermeneutical tools. Downs seems to be aware of this problem (p. 194). One wonders why he has not carried out his research more along these lines.
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Author:Karotemprel, Sebastian
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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