Theological anthropology, aspiration, and belonging in a global mega city

Theological anthropology, aspiration, and belonging in a global mega city

Nathaniel Roberts

completed


This new research examines the ways members of the Tamil linguistic and ethnic minority in Mumbai articulate “urban aspirations” via religious discourse and activity. What is the relationship between their minority status (and all that comes with it, including often economic and political marginalization) and the universalistic form in which their aspirations are often framed? How do they reconcile different and possibly incompatible claims of belonging such as caste, ethnolinguistic community, religion, nation, the human? Within what forms of temporality—progressive, cyclical, apocalyptic, homogeneous empty—do they seek to fashion an existence? Thus far three domains of practice have been identified where divisions among humans, or between humans and god, are sought to be overcome: prayer, bodily techniques, and what I call “performative translatability.”  Prayer in this context is at once a means of communicating with the divine, and of creating strong and highly personalistic ties across traditional “national” divisions (e.g. of kin, caste, and linguistic community). Performative translation describes the way church services and other activities “perform” (in the sense of making real through action) the universality of the Christian message through incessant and highly public translational acts. Under the heading of bodily techniques, I examine the physical austerities, affective disciplines, and behavioral practices through which converts and others seek to remake themselves as Christian subjects. These techniques, because they are taught, are also part of a collective aspirational project.