Review: Dalit Pentecostalism

Dalit Pentecostalism: Spirituality of the Empowered Poor, by V. V. Thomas. Bangalore, India: Asian Trading Corporation, 2008.

Dr. V. V. Thomas is one of the leading historians of Indian Pentecostalism.  His book, Dalit Pentecostalism: Spirituality of the Empowered Poor, is an excellent study, which in a creative manner interprets the history of Pentecostalism in Kerala from the point of view of the Dalits experiences and perceptions.  The study is not only based on valuable new historical material with regard to the issue of Pentecostalism in Kerala but also interrogates it with a subaltern perspective.

In a focused way the material is systematically approached and presented which shows original thinking.  The author’s critical ability is evident throughout the book in that he has critically used several primary sources available both in Malayalam and English.  Bot analysis and narration are combined in a balanced way while looking at the historical developments without losing sight of the socio-cultural contexts within which the Dalits experienced Pentecostalism in Kerala.  The author’s arguments are strong in many ways basically because of his being a personal witness to the problems, in addition to the overall knowledge of people’s history and the Church in Kerala that he possesses.

The author rightly argues with substantial data that Dalit Christians in Kerala had a prominent role in shaping the history of Pentecostalism in Kerala although it has been ignored hitherto.  The author’s historiographical evaluations in the book is very valuable as it exposes the dominant community’s views and perceptions with regard to Dalits’ place in the history of Christianity and especially Pentecostalism in Kerala.  The sustained effort of the author to keep methodological approaches has helped the author to conclude strongly that there is an entity within the larger Pentecostalism in Kerala which may be described as Dalit Pentecostalism.

Although the author had to face the problem of a lack of sources, he has overcome that difficulty by re-reading the existing sources and also by taking into account the oral sources seriously.  Orality, which is a strength of Dalit people’s way of keeping memory has helped the author to a great extent.

This book will no doubt stand as another valuable source in the library of Dalit history in India and especially in Kerala.

Adapted from the Foreword by Rev. Dr. George Ommen, Former Professor of History of Christianity, United Theological College, Bangalore, India

Softcover, 432 pages. $20.00 plus shipping. Available from: Asian Trading Corporation

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