BY Subarno Chattarji| IN Books | 16/02/2011
The Hoot excerpts a passage from Pradip Ninan Thomas’s Strong Religion, Zealous Media.
Selected and introduced by SUBARNO CHATTARJI

Interpreting Media

January 2011

The media explosion in India over the past two decades has been the subject of popular and academic scrutiny. For much of this period The Hoot has been at the forefront of media analysis in India (and South Asia in general). The book section on The Hoot brings to the fore recent debates and studies related to this exciting and constantly changing field. New extracts are posted on the site every month and we invite readers to send in comments, book recommendations, and reviews.
Pradip Ninan Thomas offers a detailed study of the ways in which Christian fundamentalism is represented and propagated across various media in India. The excerpted passage is valuable and interesting because it focuses on the internet as a means of disseminating values and models of Christianity which are exclusivist. These paradigms perceive India as a vast opportunity for evangelical mission and non-Christians as ripe for conversion. Drawing on theoretical work on hate speech on the net, Thomas outlines the particularities of evangelical Christianity in India. He makes necessary comparisons and contrasts with Hindu fundamentalism and offers arguments for a more respectful and comprehensive inter-faith dialogue.
Pradip Ninan Thomas. Strong Religion, Zealous Media: Christian Fundamentalism and Communication in India. New Delhi, Thousand Oaks, London: Sage, 2008.
University of Queensland.


SAGE Publications
Excerpted with permission of Sage Publications
Religious websites communicate global, transnational identities that signify particular, exclusive intent. Some of these sites afford opportunities to understand the ‘other’ and to network. But since Internet traffic is not determined by its content and is not policed except through self-regulation, it also provides limitless space for all manner of sites, including those fronted by organisations that have no desire to understand the ‘other’, and who are in fact committed to the negation of ‘others’—be they Muslims, Christians, Jews, the UN, people of colour or sexual minorities (Whine, 1997). The promise of limitless space accompanied by a widely subscribed to freedom of access ethic has led to sites on the World Wide Web playing an active role in national and transnational virtual inter-religious information wars, which often complement interreligious strife in real time, often resulting in serious human consequences.
While naming and shaming the medical fraternity working at abortion clinics, and encouraging anti-abortionists to physically harm those involved in aiding and abetting abortion has led to violence, even death, in the context of US-based web and real wars between the pro- and anti-life lobbies, the blacklisting of people on religious sites have yet to result in such vendettas. That however is not for a lack of religious websites blacklisting people. The website, for instance, under an image dripping blood, names a variety of people for committing crimes against the Hindu nation—inclusive of Pervez Musharraf, Sonia Gandhi, Romila Thapar and M.F. Husain. It gives people the option to right the wrongs inflicted on Hindus with the words:
This page exposes the evil forces that are against the hindu people.
Each of these persons and or organization have been found guilty of
leading efforts against our movement through their actions or otherwise.
Their crimes are crimes against the hindu people. Know your
enemies! Know who will be responsible for the downfall of Bharat . . .
and prepare yourselves for the duty towards your religion and nation
Information wars fought between rival newsgroups on the Internet were the precursors of present day web wars (Tepper, 1997). Web wars merely extend this phenomenon by reinforcing positions, although from within a protective space that is less vulnerable to ‘flaming’ and ‘crosspostings’. Granted that net access is denied to the majority of people in India, such wars can, even if only tangentially, heighten insecurities among diasporic Indian communities and provide ammunition to ultra-nationalist politicians, leading to tensions between faiths and to the breakdown of the remains of an already fragile consensus. Evelyn Kallen (1998), in a paper entitled ‘Hate on the Web: A Question of Rights/A Question of Power’, describes three ways in which the ‘other’ is transmogrified into a figure of hate:
1. Invalidation myth (prejudice): definition of target group as inferior
and/or dangerous
2. Invalidation ideology: development of theory of vilification and
provision of supporting arguments and ‘evidence’ to ‘justify’ denial
of fundamental human rights
3. Platform for action: incitement to hatred and harm (discriminatory
action); denial of human rights.
Even a cursory monitoring of religion-based websites, in this case with the
Yahoo search engine, yielded 153 sites on the subject of mission (http://
Faiths_and Missions).  This list included all manner of mainly Christian missions from the mainstream Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical churches. However, sites belonging to evangelical organisations predominate. Most of these organisations originate from USA, subscribe to the Lausanne Covenant on World Evangelisation and are involved in mission work in different parts of the world, including India. India is located in what they refer to as the ‘10/40 Window’, that is, ‘the unevangelised and unreached belt between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north of the equator, from West Africa to East Asia’ (  The year 2000 is obviously significant for many of these groups, and organisations such as AD2000 and their Joshua Project 2000 have targeted 1,700 communities globally for church-planting efforts, including 200 in north India (see Box 7.1). The north Indian Hindibelt is also the primary location for contemporary forms of Hindu nationalist resurgence.
One of the striking features of these websites is the language and imagery used. Like Joshua, who sent spies to survey the land the Israelites were to inhabit, God is helping to ‘spy out the land’ that we (meaning Christians) ‘might go in and claim both it and its inhabitants for Him’(http://www.ad2000). The Sam P. Chelladurai Outreach Mission web page describes India as ‘a land of opportunity’, ‘a free country’ that allows ‘the right to preach and propagate the Gospel’, a country where one ‘can preach, make disciples, baptize and add people to the church’ (

Box 7.1      The Joshua Project: Purpose and Mission
Joshua   Project
Our Purpose . . .
to spread a passion for the supremacy of God among all unreached
Our   Mission . . .
to highlight the people groups of the world that have the least
Christian presence in their midst and to encourage pioneer church-planting
movements among every ethnic people group.
Our  Rationale . . .
‘This gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world
as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come’
(Matthew 24:14).

Dr Roger Houtsma’s World Outreach Ministries website refers to his work in Vyara and Songadh, cities in northwestern Gujarat, the state which incidentally experienced a number of religious conflicts in late 1998—‘India is experiencing the greatest harvest in its history. Now is the time that we must reap’ (  The Accelerating International Mission Strategies (AIMS) ( home page refers to the Caleb Declaration ( and to people signing it becoming ‘part of a movement of Christians who are zealous for God’s glory and for seeing His Kingdom advanced and His name proclaimed among all nations!’ Their priority ‘Gateway Cities’ include Jaipur in Rajasthan, Patna in Bihar and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. Believers are asked to pray for the sublime—‘that the millions of pilgrims visiting the Ganges River . . . find the living water given by Jesus’—and the ludicrous: ‘Worship of rats produces conditions that foster pneumonic plague. Pray that the idolatry underlying this health hazard would be bound.’ And then, the most zealous prayer of all ‘Pray that the strife between Muslims and Hindus would cause disillusionment, leading them to the true Prince of Peace’ (
What is perhaps most regrettable in many of these websites is the disrespect with which they describe Hindus, their Gods, Goddesses and practices. In the AD2000 series sign #4 ‘Why North India’, Varanasi, the seat of Hindu faith, is described in the following manner:
Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh is Hinduism’s holiest city, with thousands of temples cantering on the worship of Shiva, an idol whose symbol is a phallus. Many consider this city the very seat of Satan. Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges River at Varanasi washes away all sins ( 4.htm).
In the same vein it adds that: ‘A number of Christian workers took up the burden of prayer for this city and in prayer walks boldly declared before the idols, “you are not a living god”’ (ibid.). The same fervour is exhibited in the Gospel for Asia web page ( that informs the world that 6 million tracts were distributed to Hindu pilgrims at the Kumbh Mela, an important Hindu festival. These are examples of, what may be described as, zealotry run riot.
The contents of these websites reflect the typical narrative structure of fundamentalist churches in USA—their belief in global ‘evangelism, biblical inerrancy, pre-millennialism and separatism’ (Ammerman, 1998). A striking feature is the call to activist foot-soldiers who have a responsibility to not merely wait for the Kingdom, but to usher it in—exemplified by the subtle and not so subtle work carried out by evangelical teams in India. These websites are also totally in character with the well-funded communication strategies employed by the religious right in USA that employ a variety of rhetorical devices to communicate a fusion of interests between the this-wordly and the eschatological. What is evident is a strategic plan for global evangelism that may not in the end amount to much, but the separatist intent of which can be interpreted as a call to arms. It is clear that the rhetoric of Christian mission websites employ the three stages identified by Kallen (1998): invalidation myths, invalidation ideologies and a platform for action.
These US-based missions fund a network of national and local organisations in India, which are involved in mission work. These include the India Missions Association, the Evangelical Fellowship of India, the North India Harvest Network, the Evangelical Church of India and New Life Assemblies of God among literally hundreds of other institutions. Communication is critical to the work of these missions and a variety of means are employed—innumerable print ministries such as those undertaken by the Gospel Missions of India; radio ministries through Trans-World Radio, Good News Broadcasting Society, the Far East Broadcasting Association (FEBA) and Gospel for Asia Radio Ministries; Bible translation ministries such as the Indian Institute of Cross Cultural Communication, India Bible Translators, New Life Computers and the Friends
Missionary Prayer Band; and a variety of seminaries and Bible training schools, which in turn churn out hundreds of evangelists and pastors. South Indian Christians, primarily from the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, form the bulk of recruits for these missionary organisations, the footsoldiers for the Cross in north India. Given the money, resource power and media-savvy character of North American evangelical groups, their presence on the web is only to be expected. They have historically been adept at exploiting the technologies of mass communications for their own ends. The conviction that every new advance in communications technology is a gift from God and should be exploited for the cause of the Kingdom is also a view that resonates in mainstream Christian circles in India, even though, perhaps fortunately, their involvement has been minimal.
Evangelism and conversion are of course integral to the Christian faith but their meanings vary widely, from the absolutist positions taken by fundamentalist Christians to the risky openness of conversion subscribed to by some in the ecumenical movement—the possibility of mutual conversion in a context of dialogue (
php). The World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (1982) in its statement ‘Mission and Evangelism— Ecumenical Convictions’ (1997: 383) clearly states that ‘Life with people of other faiths and ideologies is an encounter of commitments. Witness cannot be a one-way process, but of necessity is two-way: in it Christians become aware of some of the deepest convictions of their neighbours.’ The ex-general secretary of the WCC, Emilio Castro, writing on evangelism in the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement (1991: 399) remarks that:
The guidelines for our (Christian) relations with other faiths remind us that it is not just a question of co-existence or pro-existence of the different religious groups. It is also an attitude of dialogue . . . an attitude of respect for the neighbour . . . Consequently, our testimony to our faith should take place in a context not only of respect but of acceptance of the other.
These are examples of the multiplicity of positions in organised Christianity on issues such as evangelism and conversion—a diversity that is scarcely acknowledged by the media. The lived exploration of the Hindu–Christian meeting point by Swami Abhishiktananda (1969), Murray Rogers, Bede Griffiths (1983) and Jules Monchanin (see Rodhe, 1993) are further illustrations of convictions in mission that are undoubtedly an anathema to most evangelicals. However, the most powerful expressions of dialogue are communicated by the daily clatter of life experienced by various communities in India who live cheek by jowl in different locales and contexts. Presumably such unconscious, daily celebrations of difference and solidarity are grist to the fundamentalist mill.
While there certainly has been a mushrooming of a number of fundamentalist Christian and jihadi websites, the BJP era saw the growth of a number of Hindutva websites that are committed to protecting and defending Hindu identity and culture while simultaneously critiquing their enemies Islam and, to a lesser extent, Christianity. The presence of such websites has not gone unnoticed. In fact, the comprehensive and informative link site, Hindu Web Universe, refers to the work and worldviews of some of these organisations


Christian Fundamentalism and Communication in India
2008 / 228 pages / Cloth: Rs 550 (9788178298344)
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