Accepted Paper:

The blurring of religious boundaries: Sekrenyi and Christmas among the Christian Angami  


Vibha Joshi (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Religious proliferation and conversion are central to the formation of contemporary Naga political and social identities. Concentrating on the interaction between indigenous Angami religious tradition and Christian beliefs, the paper analyses the resulting religious syncretism, and the particular forms of its expression in artifacts, and ritual and other performances.

Paper long abstract:

Christianity was introduced to the Naga peoples of northeastern India by the American Baptist mission in the 19th century. From the outset the Baptists saw the indigenous animistic religion as diametrically opposed to Christianity. But they could not foresee the later introduction of different Christian sects nor could they envisage the way in which different Naga groups sought political separateness through use of religious distinctiveness. The paper focuses on the increasing religious syncretism which resulted from this process and the particular forms of its expression.

I concentrate on the interaction between indigenous Angami religious tradition and Christian beliefs. Applying the conference theme of diversity and mutuality, the paper explores how these cross-cutting kinds of religious transformation find expression in artifacts, and ritual and other performances among the Angami. Keeping with the current anthropological view that material culture has agency and is not merely passive, I describe how some items of material and performative culture, for example celebration of the annual festival of Sekrenyi, have retained outward form, yet denote religious change. I also analyse the reverse process by which earlier discarded material and ritual forms are being reclaimed in the cause of religious revival as well as for the assertion of ethnic identity.

Moreover, material culture is used in projecting the 'warrior' past, the symbolism of which is also included in the commemorative artifacts designed for Christian Centenary celebrations. Thus, far from consistently being in conflict with Christianity, as the earlier Baptists had professed, animism supports it in many respects.

Panel W064
Interpreting religious diversity: conversion, syncretism and religious practice