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Title: Baptist Christianity and the politics of identity among the Sumi Naga of Nagaland, northeast India
Author: Angelova, Iliyana
ISNI:       0000 0004 6063 3774
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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This doctoral thesis explores the entanglement of religion and identity politics in the Indo-Burma borderlands and the indigenisation of Christianity there through grassroots processes of cultural revivalism. The ethnographic focus is on the Sumi Naga from the state of Nagaland in Northeast India. While the Sumi started converting to Baptist Christianity at the beginning of the twentieth century, conversion rates accelerated especially in the 1950s and again in the 1970s when two evangelical revivals swept across the lands of the Sumi and resulted in their conversion en masse. Significantly, these Great Revivals coincided in time with the most turbulent political history of this borderland region, as the Sumi, alongside all other Naga, were waging an armed struggle against the Indian nation-state for their right to self-determination and independence. While this struggle is now largely being fought with political rather than military means, it remains ideologically motivated by Naga perceptions of their distinct ethnic identity, history and culture compared to the rest of India. Baptist Christianity has played a central role in shaping and sustaining these perceptions. Over the past several decades following the Second Great Revival in the 1970s there has been a movement from within Sumi society to reconstruct and redefine their identity by drawing heavily on both their contemporary religion (Baptist Christianity) and their 'good' pre-Christian culture, which had been demonised and rejected in the course of earlier conversions. Discourses have been circulating in public space on the urgent need to reconceptualise collective Sumi identity by reviving, or preserving, those aspects of pre-Christian Sumi culture that are perceived as 'good' and constitutive of Sumi-ness but are currently 'under threat' of being gradually lost to modernity and foreign influences. These discourses are directly linked to processes of cultural revivalism across Nagaland, which have been motivated by a sense of the perceived loss of 'good' cultural heritage and cultural roots. This thesis is an ethnographic study of these processes of identity (re)construction within a Sumi Naga community. It sets out to examine the ways in which Baptist Christianity is central to everyday life in a Sumi village and how it plays an important role in forging group cohesion and solidarity through ritual practice and various forms of fellowship. The thesis then proceeds to study the phenomenon of cultural revivalism in both its discursive and practical manifestations. The thesis argues that the cultural revival has not reduced the centrality of Baptist Christianity to Sumi self-ascriptions and perceptions of identity, but is rather thought to have enriched it and given it a stronger cultural foundation. Hence, a Sumi Naga Christianity is being created which is perceived as unique, indigenous and distinct in its own right. The thesis attempts to explore the essence of this vernacular Christianity against the backdrop of its specific historical, economic, political and spiritual context and the all-encompassing Naga struggle against the Indian nation-state. In pursuing these issues, the thesis locates itself within debates on the intersection between religion and identity politics, which prevail in many contemporary contributions to the anthropology of Christianity.
Supervisor: Parkin, Robert Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Sumi Naga (Indic people)--Religion ; Christianity--India--Nagaland ; Baptists--India--Nagaland ; Religion and politics--India--Nagaland ; Nagaland (India)--Church history ; Nagaland (India)--Social life and customs