Silence, Exile and Cunning: Concealment and Worship at the Holy Infant Jesus Church, Bangalore
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In the context of escalating religious tensions in India, sites that still openly welcome practitioners of different belief systems or encourage a propensity for interreligious ritual engagement face a range of complex challenges. At the Holy Infant Jesus Church in Bangalore, there is a shrine set aside for people of non-Christian religions, both Hindu and Muslim, who view this deity as a jagrata or ‘awake’ god who responds to the ‘desire’ of the supplicant, granting boons and wishes. Despite the contemporary hardening of boundaries and the quest for religious purity, this site exhibits the persisting appeal of ritual engagement across religious boundaries. The consequence of such engagement is not always open connections or dialogue but rather concealment of syncretic practices from others in the supplicants’ communities. Against this background, this presentation explores the following questions: Is religion a site of interaction rather than of intra-communal withdrawal? Is religious synthesis an endangered mode of cosmopolitanism now threatened by multiple quests for religious purity? Why are some syncretic practices more resilient than others and how do people engaged in such practices make sense of what remains and what is lost?
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