"Sibling Stories: Hindu-Christian Ritual Exchange in Kerala, South India"
Corinne Dempsey’s presentation takes us to India's southwestern state of Kerala, home to a religiously diverse population approximately 19% Christian, 24% Muslim, and 56% Hindu. Roughly two-thirds of Kerala’s Christians trace the origin of their faith to Thomas the Apostle who, according to tradition, traveled by sea to Kerala’s coastline soon after the end of Jesus’ earthly career. Based on field research at Kerala’s Hindu and Christian pilgrimage and festival sites, Dempsey explores interreligious exchanges “on the ground,” arising from long-term, largely peaceful coexistence between the two communities. Shared architecture and ritual practices support the proudly stated, often-heard saying that “We live like brothers and sisters in Kerala.” Village folklore furthermore assigns sibling roles to church saints and temple deities. Depicting heavenly siblings as rivalrous yet reliant, these stories mirror the lived realities of earthly communities who, while facing the challenges of cohabitation, value cooperation above all else.
Corinne Dempsey is professor of Asian Studies and author of A Goddess Lives in Upstate New York: Breaking Convention and Making Home at a North American Hindu Temple (2005).