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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Church related, but not church controlled : conflicts over Christianity and secularism in a Tamil Christian college

  • Author(s): Smith, Hannah Leslie
  • et al.

In this thesis I examine an ongoing conflict over control of a Christian missionary-founded college in Tamil Nadu, India. Both sides in this debate assert Christian identities and claim rights under the Indian secular state, though in different ways and towards different ends. Church officials seeking to control the school argue that their minority status protects them from government interference, while a dedicated group of striking faculty argues for government oversight to protect the school and its property from the church. I rely on newspaper articles, blog posts, and the history of the college to discuss the ways in which the boundaries of the school have become an important test site for questions of the rights of minorities and the role of the secular Indian state. I argue that the boundaries between religious and secular authority are what is at stake for both sides in this particular disagreement, not just the problem of possibly corrupt religious officials. The ways in which conflicting, yet still in some sense shared, values of secularism and Christianity are articulated by both sides through legal cases, demonstrations, or violence directs us to think of ̀secularism' as a system of mediating and resolving these disagreements, rather than a state where these sorts of disputes should not happen

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