Jonas P. Adelin Jørgensen
Jonas P. Adelin JOERGENSEN
Ph.D. student, Department for Systematic Theology
The Theological Faculty
University of Copenhagen
Koebmagergade 44-46, DK-1150 Copenhagen K
Ph. +45 35 32 37 72
Fax +45 35 32 36 84
Project title: Jesus Imandars and Christ Bhaktas. Two Qualitative and Theological Studies of Syncretism and Identity in Global Christianity.
Material and Research Question: From my point of view, the main issue for Christianity in the age of globalisation is identity: what does continuity with Christian theological tradition and uniqueness among religions imply for a globalized, polycentric Christianity? Insofar that the processes of de-traditionalisation and de-territorialisation hold global importance (as claim by a number of sociologists), the processes must manifest themselves in the lives of individuals. In other words: what the emergence of plurality within Christianity itself implies for Christian self-identification should be investigated from an individual and contextual starting point.
In my research project, I focus on the transformation of identity on micro-level and in two field studies from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. In the search for adequate material to study the transformation of Christianity, my interest was drawn towards groups of believers in Christ on the fringes of institutional Christianity. I met individuals from groups of ‘Christ-believers’ in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, during my theological studies at United Theological College in Bangalore during the spring term year 2000. Later I came to know that a somewhat similar phenomenon existed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. These groups of Christ-believers evoked my ‘theological interest’ because they confessed a religious faith in Jesus as Christ which appeared similar to my own Protestant Christian faith. But at the same time their religious practices, theological understandings and inter-religious hermeneutics were radically different. They lived in what seemed to be an extreme cultural and multi-religious cross-pressure, and they displayed the effects of this pressure to the extent that they denied that they were ‘simply Christians’; rather, they identified themselves as Jesus/Īsā imandars (‘faithful to Jesus’) in Dhaka and as Christ/Khrist bhaktas (‘devotees of Christ’) in Chennai. That is, they explicitly claimed faithfulness to and devotion of Jesus as Christ but disassociated themselves from Western Christianity. The material for this study is thus the lived experience of a number of believers in marginal religious groups in the borderlands between Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
Conclusions: My study of Jesus imandars in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Christ bhaktas, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, ends with three general conclusions:
First, both the imandars and the bhaktas argue for a binary distinction between ‘inwardly’ and ‘outwardly’, and both imandars and bhaktas emphasise interiority in contrast to exteriority. The fact that converts in both fields argue for and utilise a similar distinction might indicate that there is a commonality in the discovery of interiority which is relatively independent of the contexts. In my thesis, I discuss the various possible roots of the reported interiority: style of religiosity, social location of syncretistic processes, modernity, or Christianity.
Secondly, both imandars and bhaktas adopt Muslim and Hindu religious styles, incorporate elements from Islam and Hinduism in their religious system, and translate and re-interpret the Christian meaning by doing so. That is, their religious style is clearly Islamic or Hindu but the meaning is Christian, insofar as their subject matter is Jesus as Christ. Therefore, the religious practice and theological reflection of the imandars and bhaktas might advance the theoretical understanding of syncretistic processes underlying faith in Christ. In conclusion, I offer a refined model of the syncretistic process underlying formation of faith and practice among the imandars and bhaktas.
Thirdly, on the more abstract level of inter-religious hermeneutics, the hermeneutics of both the imandars and the bhaktas clearly transcend the neo-classical tripartite division in the field of theology of religions. Rather, in their inter-religious hermeneutics the imandars and the bhaktas adopt different modes of relation to Islam and Hinduism – identity, similarity, hierarchical superiority, difference – on various levels and in relation to different elements in their translation of the Christian meaning. This forms a starting point for a discussion of the typical inter-religious relationships which Christianity enters into with other religious systems. These modes are not mutually exclusive but show that there are a number of possible relations, selections and representations to be determined in context of the historical synthesis. On a fundamental level, any Christian theology of religions might be said to be christocentric but at the same time hermeneutically pluralistic in its encounter with and interpretation of other religious traditions. Rather than denouncing an ontological or normative Christology as a precondition for genuine encounter with other religious traditions, it seems that the committed pluralist should denounce ecclesiocentrism. In conclusion and on the basis of the two empirical studies, I therefore argue for an openness characteristic of such a committed pluralism which transcends the tripartite model and includes mutuality besides exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism as possible inter-religious hermeneutics for a poly-centric Christianity in its encounters with other traditions.