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Thomas, Pradip Ninan, Strong Religion, Zealous Media: Christian Fundamentalism and Communication in India.

Thomas, Pradip Ninan, Strong Religion, Zealous Media: Christian Fundamentalism and Communication in India, Sage, New Delhi, 2008, ISBN 9 7881 7829 8344, 207 pp., A$90.00.

Pradip Thomas's analysis of the relationship between various forms of globalised and local media and the proliferation of Christian fundamentalist religion in India is not for the faint-hearted. Not only does this book cover a wide spectrum of socio-politico-religious issues within the vast and varied historical landscape of a cosmopolitan and multi-faith nation, but it also claims to present a blueprint for a truly communal inter-faith India, free of the more sinister dimensions of a powerful global media.

The book is primarily 'an exploration of new Christianity in Chennai, India, and in particular the communication strategies adopted by Christian fundamentalist groups that belong primarily to the Pentecostalist and neo-Pentecostalist traditions' in order to 'suggest another approach to religious broadcasting from a collaborative, inter-faith perspective' (pp. xii-xiii).

To try to achieve this lofty aim, Thomas structures his argument around four key sections. Section I provides the context for his study by defining his terms, then Section II frames the study around the sociological principles of Pierre Bourdieu. Section III outlines the history and surveys the current position of specific Christian media in India, before Section IV posits a blueprint for a new relationship between Christianity and the media. The extent to which Thomas achieves all these goals is, however, mixed.

Thomas's detailed study gives a very compelling survey of the current state of the relationship between the media and Christianity in India, and Chennai in particular. There are excellent analyses of specific contemporary groups and events, and Thomas gives some enlightening case studies as illustrations, including the Mar Thoma Church (pp. 74-77) and Benny Hinn's Festival of Blessings (pp. 156-74)

The book is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking a survey of current scholarship in the field and wishing to identify current gaps in this scholarship (pp. 3346). Other highlights include Thomas's succinct and comprehensive account of the history of Christianity in India over the past two millennia (pp. 47-55), and his application of Pierre Bourdieu's theoretical framework of the play between material and cultural power in society, to the cultural politics of 'misrecognition' that Thomas argues underpins the global-local field of muscular Christianity (pp. 83-102).

Thomas is at his most confident in Section III, where he traces the recent development of Christian Broadcasting and its inseparable links with the Pentecostal Church--proving, among other things, that, 'Without a doubt, the advent of satellite and cable television in the early 1990s began the renewal of religious broadcasting in India' (p. 113). As such, he establishes a convincing argument for the inseparable nexus between the methodology of a modern globalised mass media and the message of a muscular, globalised, economic Christianity. However, it is the fear invoked at points like this that somewhat undermines Thomas's wider argument.

Apart from the notoriously slippery task of objectively defining terms such as 'fundamentalism', 'Pentecostalism', 'neo-Pentecostalism', 'conservative' and 'orthodoxy', Thomas's use of his own 'coercive' rhetorical invective, such as his verbatim repeated claim of Pentecostals in India that 'such Crusades ... unite the world in a fratricidal embrace' (pp. xi, 3), ironically undermine his stated desire that, 'For the sake of members like myself ... it is important that this diversity is maintained and strengthened, not weakened by the viral spread of exclusive, triumphalistic [sic], divisive understandings of Christianity.' (p. xvi)

Overall, though, these are forgivable flaws in a work where such passions might be inseparable from the subject-matter. There is no denying that this book represents a worthy and useful addition to this unduly neglected area of scholarship, both for India itself and the wider issues of the interplay between religion and media around the world.

--Bradley Well, English, University of Sydney
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Author:Well, Bradley
Publication:Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 1, 2011
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