As a recipient of a CSA Fellowship for the summer of 2015, I was able to undertake a month of preliminary fieldwork related to my doctoral dissertation in the department of Anthropology. Situated in Mumbai, my project seeks to examine the impact that the advent of charismatic Christianity in the late 1970s has had upon on the traditional (“mainline”) denominations in the city, the largest of these being the Catholic Church.
My approach to this question is comprised of two main lines of inquiry. The first seeks to trace the histories of migration, socio-economic competition, and political mobilization that led to the formation of the regional-linguistic ethnic groups that today comprise Mumbai’s Catholic community; the second examines how such ethnic politics has been reconfigured in the wake of a revival that has siphoned off mainline believers into a variety of fragmentary, non-denominational groups. I am interested not only in how the charismatic message morphs in its journey between different socio-linguistic groups, but also in how various forms of Christian ideology and ethnic competition are spatialized in a changing urban environment.
Over the course of my summer fieldwork, I sought to lay the groundwork for this project by focusing my attention on four key activities. The first was identification of relevant archival resources for my project, which involved visits to the libraries housed at the Royal Asiatic Society, Elphinstone College, University of Mumbai, and St. Xavier’s College. I combined a search for select 19th century documents with a broader survey of relevant materials available in these collections, the amount of which exceeded the time available to me. My second area of focus was to expand my contacts with mainline clergy. Within the Catholic Church, my efforts were focused on meeting with priests leading the Archdiocese’s response to the charismatic revival—whether in terms of defense (“Apologetics”) or inspiration (“Catholic Charismatic Renewal”). In addition to this, I was able to meet with clergy from the Church of North India—a post-colonial denomination that has been largely successful in its attempts to synthesize India’s various mainline Protestant sects into a single entity. My third area of focus was to expand my contacts with the assorted ethnic organizations in the Catholic community, particularly those representing the Goanese, East Indian, and Mangalorean populations. Finally, throughout all of these activities I began to identify local historians and amateur scholars similarly interested in the production of various types of academic material on the Christian communities of Bombay.
This “top-down” research strategy entailed certain limitations in terms of the spontaneous and casual interactions that are often the hallmark of ethnographic investigation fixed in one neighborhood or locality. However, given time limitations and the dispersed location of individuals and materials, it was successful in terms of gaining a picture of the Christian landscape in Bombay and providing me with a clearer map for focusing future fieldwork activities. Indeed, I usually found myself with more leads and materials than I had time to follow up on—a result that is promising in terms of the future potential of the project.