Book review: Exploring Indigenous Spirituality

Anvil journal of theology and mission

Anita Maryam Mansingh, Exploring Indigenous Spirituality: The Kutchi Kohli Christians of Pakistan, (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2021).

by Tom Wilson, St Philip’s Centre, Leicester

This is a fascinating first foray into a largely undocumented world. Anita Maryam Mansingh, herself a Kutchi Kohli Christian, introduces the faith of these people, their challenges and joys in following Jesus for themselves. The first centre for Kutchi Kohli Christians opened in Pakistan in 1986, so this is a very young spiritual community, and it is probably the first time their Christian faith has been explored in print in English.

Exploring Indigenous Spirituality reads as if it is the author’s master’s dissertation (at less than a hundred pages it is too short for a PhD). This means it has commendable academic rigour, with a clear explanation of the method of research, the mode of analysis and the main argument that is advanced. Academic writing can at times be dry, but Mansingh largely avoids this, especially when sharing the fruit of her in-depth interviews with her fellow followers of Christ. This is her main aim in writing – to ensure that otherwise unheard voices are recorded and available.

The book contains just four chapters: an introduction to Kutchi Kohli Christianity, an explanation of her methodological and spiritual framework, analysis of her research and recommendations for the future. Chapter one, as well as orientating the reader to the Muslim context of Pakistan and the largely Hindu context of the Kutchi Kohli people, introduces the three tools Mansingh uses in her analysis: interspirituality, multiple or double religious belonging and hybridisation. By interspirituality she means the possibilities for spiritual growth that come through studying, encountering and living with the religious traditions of another. Perhaps this is Krister Stendahl’s “holy envy” writ large and lived out in a family that has both Hindus and Christians under one roof? This is why multiple belonging is so important, as all the Kutchi Kohli Christians featured in Exploring Indigenous Spirituality have Hindu relatives; some are the only Christian in their extended family. This in turn results in hybridisation, which focuses on the dynamic interaction between different cultures and religions.

Chapter two, on methodology, is thorough and detailed, and like any methodology chapter is of interest to a specialist but perhaps less attractive to a generalist who wants to get to the meat of the analysis. This is provided in rich detail in chapter three, which is well worth reading carefully. This is the most thought-provoking chapter. Mansingh explores questions of identity and self-perception, of double cultural and religious belonging, of ritual and sacramental practices, of personal relationship with God and prayer, of community and family relations, and finally challenges and obstacles to spiritual growth. One particularly striking example is Joti Parab, a festival of light celebrated by Kutchi Kohli Christians at the same time as their Hindu compatriots celebrate Diwali. It made me think about how Christmas is, and is not, a Christian festival, not to mention the proliferation of “Light parties” as an alternative to Halloween.

Chapter four lists Mansingh’s findings and conclusions, both those that surprised her as well as those which she expected. It is notable that the Islamic context of Pakistan was far less of an obstacle for Kutchi Kohli believers than the Hindu faith of their own families. If everyone around you goes to Bhopas, Hindu healers, when they are ill, can you ignore their belief that all illness has a spiritual element and just go to a (Western) doctor for medicine? Mansingh also calls for the empowerment of women and the need for the development of a “Kutchikohlinized Christianity” which clearly reflects the culture and practices of her people.

Although this specific world, of a particular sub-group of a particular Pakistani tribe, is likely to be of direct relevance to only a few, the general questions it raises are far more widely applicable. Here the brevity of the book is a real advantage. It would be an excellent resource to help someone think through questions of contextualisation, the difference between faith and culture, and what it means to follow Jesus in a setting where he is largely unknown. As such, this book deserves to be widely read by those who want to consider questions of faith and culture.

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