Books and Bodices: Material Culture and Protestant Missions in Colonial South India
Historians of nineteenth-century Christian missions have frequently noted the tension between the impulse to convert and the temptation to civilize. To the extent that the conditions under which British missionaries lived and worked in India were already overdetermined by the fact of British colonial rule, these two impulses were, in practice, deeply intertwined. However, one can discern two distinctive strains of argumentation in the discourse generated by missionaries to describe, define, and justify their goals and the means for achieving them. Advocates of the Christian mission in India mostly agreed that Indians were in a degraded state that could be remedied by the teachings to which the missionaries had privileged access, but they differed in their diagnoses of the problem, as well as in their solutions for remedying it. One argument was that the “gospel alone” was what Indians needed to save them from their unregenerate state. Implicit in this argument was a particular understanding of the person, as being essentially determined by the state of his or her “soul,” that immaterial, immortal, and deeply interior center of being that was described dichotomously as either dark with sin, or pure, light, and free. According to this soteriology, the problem was sin, an inborn predisposition to compulsively transgress God’s law. Sin was a universal malady with which all humans were inherently afflicted, and its solution was faith in Jesus, whose death on the cross had opened the floodgates of redemption, so that all who took refuge in him would be saved.1
KeywordsPrincely State Christian Mission Christian Woman Missionary Society British Colonial Rule
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