Book Review of David Joy's 'Overlooked Voices: A Postcolonial Indian Quest' by Sindhu Joseph

by Sindhu Joseph

Date added: 10/11/2016

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Book Review: Joy, C.I. David. Overlooked Voices: A Postcolonial Indian Quest

United States of America: Borderless Press, 2015.

Sindhu Joseph*

The book entitled Overlooked Voices: A Postcolonial Indian Quest has been written by C.I. David Joy. He is a presbyter of the Church of South India, South Kerala Diocese and teaches New Testament at United Theological College, Bangalore. He is an author of several well known books and articles. Some of his recent books are Hermeneutics: Foundations (ISPCK, 2012); Mark and its Subalterns: A Hermeneutical Paradigm for a Postcolonial Context (London: Equinox, 2008); Not by the Might but by the Spirit (Delhi: ISPCK, 2008) and Christology: Re-visited: Profiles and Prospects (Bangalore: ATC, 2007).

In the book Overlooked Voices: A Postcolonial Indian Quest,the author’s prime focal point is to search for the native voices that stood firmly for the freedom and emancipation of the people of God in India during the British Raj. Besides, he mentions about numerous powerful voices that directed for the articulation of an indigenous theology and leadership of the church. For the further exploration and systematic progression of explanations and arguments, he has divided the content of the book into six chapters.

The introductory chapter of the book emphasizes on engaging with postcolonial perspectives during the colonial period. The major purpose of this chapter is to recognize the contributions of natives and challenge the ongoing notions about the origin of postcolonialism. The author expresses that the core constituents of the church emerged during the British Raj. It is mainly due to the historical milieu, native leaders of the then church have been depicted as inert, submissive collaborators of colonial mission and the British Raj (p.1). Further, he states how Bible is used as a religious tool to affirm the identity and emancipation of the people of the land by missionaries and natives in British India. At the same time the author also interrogates the relevance of Gospel in today’s neo – colonial as well as religio – cultural pluralistic context.

Quoting Susan Bayly,’ the author states that India as a domain of socialist postcoloniality and traces the origin of postcolonial theory within the framework of missionary colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides, he shares how postcolonial religious reading will take account of the cultural predicaments that emerged due to the imperial ventures of creating margins and denying space for the people of edges.  Moreover, he also made an attempt by citing the contributions of several postmodern critical hermeneuts such as Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva and so on stating Bible as a text with multiple meaning which requires scientific interpretation and explains some metaphors from the early Christian context to understand the fundamentals of early Christian identity. While discussing the interpretation of the Bible which is a construction of a particular social matrix, it also interrogates about analyzing the mission history from a postcolonial India context. Hence, the author points out that the social discourse of Indian social systems under the colonial missionary leadership could be traced well with the help of hermeneutical tools and methods.

Besides, he explains basing on K. M. Zhukov’s argument there were innumerable stages of development in the history of British colonialism and Indian freedom movements especially during 1930’s and 1940’s. Probably, that might be the reason which resulted in using identical vocabularies in terms of building up a nationalist church by the native leaders of the church and missionaries. On the other hand, he also emphasizes on the fusion of native literature and the Bible in order to understand the identity and meaning of life and such interpretations could be counted as the foremost attempts for a Christian indigenization of the native Church. 

Along with search for a possible biblical hermeneutics, the author puts forth that the positions of intolerance, traditional views and colonial values could not create an atmosphere of research and study in a proper fashion where the church and academy need to go together. Besides, the author shares that theological educators should genuinely try to be scholars and writers which are mandatory as part of Christian discipleship. Finally, he conveys every native voice that has encountered colonial domination should be examined carefully for a possible postcolonial thinking schema.

Moreover, in the second chapter, he deals with the issue of the need for a fresh quest in the study.  The major scope of this study is to emphasize the function of native Christian leaders and communities in preparing a manifesto for postcolonial theology, historiography and hermeneutics. The author claims that the literature produced during that period enhanced the growth of the native church and also addressed the issues of people from the margins. In order to analyze the colonial history of Christianity in India, the author chiefly based his arguments with the writings of Robert Eric Frykenberg because of his ideological and theological thinking. Non – Christian religious elements, Arabian legacy prevailed during 8th century, St. Thomas traditions in India are the necessary part of comprehending the story of Christianity in India.

Besides, he admires the contribution and role of ‘Halle – Copenhagen – London’ under the leadership of SPCK (1698), SPG (1702) and Royal Danische – Hallesche Mission (1906) in spreading the Gospel. On the other hand, the author slams the India’s Raj which included kings and other poor castes who were protecting the caste system and offering security to the ruling class which resulted in propelling the subaltern communities outside the power sphere.

Further, the author explains how Frykenberg expounds the conversion of Avarna Christians in the south which stood for social equality and justice, role of the mass movements where native leadership began to stress in directing the Indian Church theologically as well as ecclesiastically. The author’s major content is that the indigenous movements are the primary force behind anti – colonial movements within Christianity which later became the corner stone for postcolonial thinking.

Besides, the author elucidate the clashes between the aliens and indigenous, between foreign and native; how Frykenberg straightforwardly talks about the nexus between Christianity and the British Raj and how Hindu Raj and certain national leaders were provoked and encountered the activities of Christians and institutions for  providing education for lower caste people. At the same time the author is very critical about the education system by the missionaries for shunning space for critical thinking and resistance due to the colonial nature of the British Raj.

Then the author explains about the indianization in the Christian spiritual movements done by Sadhu Sunder Singh, A.J. Appasamy, V.S Azaraiah.  He also mentions about the conflict between St. Thomas Christians and the Portuguese, mass protests against LMS and CMS who were supported by British for converting low caste. The conflict of mileu of that time shaped the real phase of Christian identity in India.  Talking towards the postcolonial Church in India the author gives the arguments of Solomon Doraisawamy (1985) besides, the contribution of Alexander Duff in providing fruitful education for the natives.

The author also appreciates the historiography adopted by native writers, articles by S.K. Datta and P. Oommen Philip about the responsibility of the local leaders and the native Church in building up an indigenous Church. Also, he analyses certain strong indigenous Christian movements by the native Christians from a decolonizing view point. Furthermore, the role of UTC and G.E. Phillips motivating discourse is mentioned in motivating the theological educators and church leaders to persevere with an unyielding sense of solidarity with the poor and the marginalized of the society.

Other factors the author mentions is about the caste system, role of English education in promoting imperial values, patriarchal system which prevented women voices, lack of homogeneity in the status of women in India, Victorian complex values of gender discrimination which was imposed on Indian women and how Zenana mission tried to uplift the voices of women but efforts were not enough. This reveals that the socio – cultural life situation of the people in various parts of colonial India, certain times it was offensive and complex due to multi – cultural, multi – lingual and many polyvalent features of the society which includes plot, conflict and hybridity.

Finally, in this chapter the author argues that colonial history should be studied through the lens of native cultures and practices in order to assess the aspirations and challenges of the people. Besides, he also mentions how the contributions of regional publishing houses, along with missionary publishing activities truly motivated native thinking and search for a location of freedom and justice.

Furthermore, in the third chapter Rupture and Resistance: Organizations, the author mentions several organizations which addressed the need of the ministry and mission of the church during the colonial period. The Guardian, a Christian weekly journal, theological schools in the missionary period, fundamental declaration of the National Missionary Society in India which states “ with Indian men, Indian money and under Indian direction” were the stimulating factors which kindled the people’s thinking capacity to promote native leadership, for the process of Indianization of mission. For this venture the role of V.S. Azariah and K.T Paul’s is appreciative. In addition to, the author mentions how resistance movements boosted the natives in terms of identity and inspired them to achieve autonomy. As well as, the author mentions how P.D. Devanandam, Sister Gettrude and P. Chenchia created an atmosphere for a postcolonial thinking to emerge.

Several reform movements both theologically and ideologically address social issues like poverty, education system, against child marriage and encouraged the natives to have natural leadership for maintaining Indian Church. Also, the role of YMCA gatherings for an indigenous form of Christianity is acknowledged in this chapter. Reform and resistance movements in India had been inspired not only by Christianity but also by people of other faiths (like Arya Samaj, Theosophical Society).  Besides, the native leaders of the Indian church preached an ideology of resistance as they spoke about a God who stood for the liberation of the people of the margins. One such interpretation is Dhvani interpretation of the Bible. The author argues that this gives a fresh path of hermeneutics. The native hermeneutics slowly began to pick up insights from the cultural matrix for a sustainable and indigenous pattern of the study of the Bible. At last, the author conveys that the reform and resistance movements indeed enabled the native Christians to prepare a platform for evaluating and interrogating the colonial religious regime and to understand their contemporary cultural and political layers of oppression.

In the fourth chapter, Endeavors for Indianization, the author mentions about the indigenous attempts initiated by missionaries and natives in terms of worship, interpretation of the Bible, using of vernacular words and phrases to present theological issues and for church leadership. Besides, the influence of liberation theology since the 1960s also enabled to constitute an indigenous theology of liberation. But the opposition to this scheme appeared from three fronts: ecclesial leadership, state leadership and Christian sectarian groups who promoted prosperity theology. The author’s optimism is that a postcolonial theology and hermeneutics will open a new horizon of liberations for the Indian Church.

L. P Larsen’s explanation on presenting Christ to the Hindus in 1895; incorporation of contextual metaphors and axioms by Christian theologians, contributions of V.S. Azariah, A.J. Appasamy, S. Kappen and A. V. Subbamma’s  emphasize about the theological indigenization which provided a new horizon for ecclesiology and missiology. The role of Christian Ashram movement in formulating worship life by offering many lyrics and prayers based on indigenous cultural dimensions is noteworthy.  Another significant dimension of indigenization is Leslie Newbigin’s quest for ecumenism based on native frameworks and cultures. Furthermore, shifting most of the works into vernacular languages; the role of London Missionary Society; Christo Samaj, Madras; National Christian Council Review; Theosophical society in recognizing the native leadership is incredible which led to the formation of an Indian Church with distinct identity.

Further, the author expresses how theological education has been playing a significant role in the promotion of indigenous voices of the church within a postcolonial context. Quoting Samuel Amirtham, former Bishop of Church of South India the author also affirms that theological educators and leaders should not be afraid in exposing believers to radical biblical truth. Also, the author states, the uncritical imposition of missionary documents damaged the cultural framework of the native people, especially women.

In the fifth chapter, Origin and Development of Liturgy in India during the Colonial/Postcolonial Period, the author discusses about the missionary period where the traditions and liturgies of Church of England and Methodists have an impact on the United Churches in India. In early stages many tracts adapted and adopted Hindu Scriptures like “Ram Pariksha” written by Sternburg in 1870s. Besides, the author affirms that the hymns and lyrics composed by Mosa Walsalam Sastriar in Malayalam have greater theological contents with the idea of liberation. In addition to certain songs of him inspired the native Christians to take a position against all kinds of oppression and domination.

Further, the author affirms the role and endeavor of A.J Appasamy in formulating bhakti mode of Indian Christian spirituality. Besides, the author highlights on Indian Christologies developed by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and K.C. Sen which accentuates on dyana and bhakti. By viewing liturgy from a postcolonial view point the author shares liturgy as a religious tool to affirm the identity and emancipation for the people of the land. In addition to, the author shares about Samson Prabhakar’s contribution in introducing a number of racial and ecclesial centered shifts in liturgy.

Moreover, the author also mentions the use of Bible in liturgy for resistance. The memorandum prepared by Christo Samaj of Madra in 1922 gives the evidence how liturgical pieces equipped Indian Christians during the colonial period to explore the ways in which socio political power groups interacted with one another. The author also shares the desire for an indigenous liturgy and music prevailed among the native people which is explained from the initiatives taken to start Tamil services in 1816;  joint worship in the London Mission Chapel, Bangalore in 1866. Furthermore, the author explains how cultural festivals also played an important role in the origin and growth of the liturgy which became a space for Gospel work. In order to develop a relevant liturgy and ecclesiology for a postcolonial Indian context, the author communicates the view points of Eric J. Lott; J. R. Chandran and K.P. Aleaz. Besides, the author states any theological articulation and hermeneutical expression should consider sensitivities and sensibilities of the people of the grassroots segments.  In conclusion, he explains how the vernacular practioners of liturgy faced the challenges in preserving the native vocabulary in their religious thinking and culture. Besides, how scholars maintained the portrayal of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ in vernacular words and phrases in order to make the Gospel message legitimate to all.

Finally, in the end chapter, Remapping the Use of Bible in India as a Tool for Emancipation, he explains how Bible acts as an elementary document in defining identity in the context of socio – cultural struggles. Besides, the formulation of a separate lectionary for Indian Church reveals the declaration of autonomy of the Church.

It is noteworthy to identify that there is no serious endeavors from theological academy viewpoint to recognize the biblical interpretation in the native language by native pastors and theologians during the colonial and postcolonial period because the works in English only could get recognition at the global level. However, there were many sincere attempts to interpret biblical text within the framework of native cultures and the role of Brahma Samaj in reflecting a relevant Christology and interpretation in the religio – cultural framework of India is significant.

Besides, the author also explains the view points for promoting a contextual hermeneutics and vernacular interpretation of the Bible. And it narrates how bible motivated the believers and native leaders to have a fresh thinking in the field of theology and hermeneutics also to have a translation that lies closer to the sentiments and sensitivities of vernaculars of India for forming an indigenous Church. As well as, the author also gives details about the sermons in the Christian journals namely, The Harvest Field, The Indian Evangelical Review which contains sermons from the missionary view point. Also, the archival materials especially the vernacular one reveals the true aspirations of the native people for freedom and justice. And the explanation of biblical text contextually and the postcolonial critical interpretation of Philemon 8 – 16 are noteworthy. The author also affirms how biblical interpretation across the globe underwent a morphological shift during the colonial period and the historical experience of the Church prepared a pattern for Biblical interpretation.

In conclusion, the author acknowledges the native leaders voices of the Indian church during the colonial period that paved way for the present postcolonial thinking schema. Besides, a search for a fresh quest, an understanding and analysis of resistance movement during the colonial and postcolonial period in India, efforts of Indianization of liturgy and leadership and new innovative methods of biblical interpretation for emancipation of the people of the margins define the origin and development of postcolonial hermeneutics in a postcolonial Indian context. Through, this study the author points out that the seeds for postcolonialism were sown during the colonial period by the natives and some missionaries from their voices for freedom and justice. Though, most of the theorists and theologians who practice postcolonial reading strategy in interpreting the Bible consider The Bible and Postcolonialism series edited by R.S. Sugirtharajah to be the starting point of postcolonial hermeneutics but the author points to serious discourse happened in 1950’s and 60’s where he shares Sebastin Kappen’s Christ and Culture and Kaj Baago’s pattern of re – reading mission history are two examples. Finally, in order to identify a possible postmodern critical methodology for biblical interpretation in India, the author also shares certain articles that have made legitimate proposals to interpret the Bible within a cultural context. Also, he states by employing tools from the postcolonial reading strategy one can have a fresh approach to the religion where it will offer an alternative path.

In summation, it can be said Overlooked Voices: A Postcolonial Indian Quest is a significant book which clearly portrays the voices of the native leaders and people at the margins in India during the British Raj. Besides, this book calls forth the Indian church and the leaders to study the history from a postcolonial view point in order to bring forth fresh insights in hermeneutics and to identify an alternative path by remembering the ‘overlooked voices.’ The careful analysis of various literatures and archival materials both in English and vernacular writings as well as several scholarly opinions and argumentations from both secular and theological view point broaden the research by offering unsullied insights for the readers and even encouraging the future researchers to have a further exploration. The author has written this book in terms of realistic and sound understanding of sensitivity to the real needs of the people of contemporary world. The language used in this book is coherent, persuasive and practical. Besides, it firmly insists a new direction for the scholars, researchers and leaders to identify the voices which are overlooked in the history and in today’s world. Hence, this book can be used by church leaders, students, historians, hermeneuts, academic scholars, native leaders, missionaries in order to have a wider understanding of history and mission of the Church which can be also useful for present context.


* Sindhu Joseph currently teaches in the Department of Biblical Studies (New Testament) at MBCBC, Shamshabad. This review has also been published at Bangalore Theological Forum, Vol. XLVII, No. 2 (December, 2015).

Sindhu Joseph

Sindhu Joseph



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