Vasco Da Gama’s celebrated passage to India (1497–99) not only initiated a period of Christian expansion, in which Jesuit missionaries declared war to the alleged ‘idolatry’ of Hindus. The engagement with the until then largely unknown and unexpectedly rich culture of Hinduism was also part of profound modern transformations that, in the long run, lead Christian Europe to recognize the plurality of religions around the globe.
Hindu–Catholic Engagements in Goa offers a novel perspective on the Portuguese empire and Catholic hegemony in Asia that for almost half a millennium—from 1510 to 1961—had its capital in Goa. Based on fresh archival studies and extensive ethnography, it reveals the dramatic role of religion at the beginning of colonialism and modernity and provides insight into Goa’s intricate Hindu-Catholic syncretism today.
Hindu village gods and Catholic patron saints commonly attract veneration from people of the respective ‘Other’ religious community and, yet, do not create confusion between the distinct identities of Hindus and Catholics. At the core of this seeming syncretistic paradox lies a communal concern for neighborhood, genealogy, protection and health that, at times, overrules doctrinal divides in the village communities. Hindus and Catholics share trust in communicating with the divine and holy in ways that occasionally favor ritual over belief and appreciate substance before meaning. Contrary to postcolonial theories of ‘Othering’, this book identifies religion thus as an inherently hybrid dimension of the intersection of colonialism and modernity and identifies local, rather than universal and epistemic, rather than ethical principles at the core of Goa’s remarkable religious pluralism.
This book will be welcomed by scholars and students of history, anthropology, postcolonial theory, and cultural studies. It will also appeal to informed readers who are interested in the making of early modern Goa.
Alexander Henn is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Arizona State University.
Note on Transliteration
1 Vasco da Gama’s Error: Conquest and Plurality
2 Image Wars: Iconoclasm, Idolatry, and Survival
3 Christian Puranas: Hermeneutic, Similarity, and Violence
4 Ganv: Place, Genealogy, and Bodies
5 Demotic Ritual: Religion and Memory
6 Crossroads of Religions: Shrines and Urban Mobility
Conclusion. Religion and Religions: Syncretism Reconsidered