American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
Women’s anti-caste activism in Tamil Nadu, in southern India, has been historically intertwined with Christianity. Both women, and Dalits (erstwhile ‘untouchable’ communities) in the region, have harnessed the liberatory potential within Christian theology to address inequality, injustice, and strive towards social change. In doing so, women in particular, have evolved an extant political vocabulary that is moored in feminist re-interpretations of the New Testament. This paper will examine how women activists in the Tamil speaking region have engaged feminist theological interpretations of equality, justice and fellowship to create feminist sociality and community life with each other. How do they engage theology and Christian Socialist thought to evolve networks of care: for the environment, the disempowered, and each other? How does ‘coming together in fellowship’ enable transformation of a simultaneously Christian and feminist political self, both individually and collectively? Lastly, how do Christian lifeworlds and knowledge practices shape – and allow themselves to be shaped by – an extant political vocabulary in Tamil Nadu inspired by the Dravidian Movement’s rationalist-atheist ideology? In doing so, this paper will attend to specific aspects of Christian theology that women and Dalit activists highlight in support of their emancipatory projects. This paper will engage these concerns using a combination of oral histories with Christian women activists, ethnographic and archival work across the Indian Tamil-speaking region.