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Abstract

This paper examines ”acting in” as a tactic through which marginalized Christians from predominantly Hindu villages leverage an ideological and cultural space for practicing and sharing a Christian piety in modern Odisha, India – a region that has experienced significant anti-Christian violence in the past two decades. This research examines the cultural and political work accomplished through specific kinds of performances by the Christians of Marathana Ministries.

The example of “acting in” presented here occurs in the openness of village streets and incorporates highly stylized narrative presentations of Christian scriptures realized through song, dance and drama. This ”acting in” performance draws on local conventions in order to affect a resonance between the audience’s experience with similar performances of Hindu epics and the ”acting in” performances of Christian narratives. This resonance, a domain of experience that Dwight Conquergood calls an “embodied epistemology,” enables the dramatized Christian stories – and even the Christians themselves – to be received by villagers as if emanating from a shared past. This phenomenological process also creates the conditions by which the beliefs of Maranatha Ministries Christians might conceivably emerge in subsequent village dialogue as local and undifferentiated from the local traditions of religious practice.

The political notion of ”acting in” becomes evident as I demonstrate how the tactics of ”acting in” include a jettisoning of practices deemed foreign. This combination of carefully crafted performance and the absence of foreign cultural markers enables Maranatha Ministries Christians to become accepted in the village and also to become undifferentiated from their Hindu neighbors. This lack of differentiation produces a functional invisibility to the state and unofficial means of surveillance that might otherwise find it expedient to govern Christians as a distinct social entity. In this way ”acting in” enables peaceable relations between Maranatha Ministries Christians, their village neighbors, village elders and regional and state authorities. Ironically, invisibility to the state is achieved through performance of what state officials call “oral tradition” – a practice first employed by the state itself for tourist purposes.

Contradictions abound in the precarity of Odisha’s modern political society, as Maranatha Ministries Christians navigate an unstable environment in which they declare that their enemy is not the state, not Hinduism and not Hindutva but rather, their enemy is offensive culture practices. “Acting in” is the performative expression of this stance that enables Christian piety and agency in the political uncertainties of modern Odisha.

Author Biography

Douglas R. Anthony received his PhD from The Ohio State University with Ryan Skinner in 2015 and currently works with Freedom to Lead International. His primary task involves partnering with local artists to produce new indigenous songs to accompany a leadership development curriculum designed for storycentric learners. Doug and his wife Mary Lu live in Elida, Ohio and have three adult sons.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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