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    Kerala Christian Sainthood: Collisions of Culture and Worldview in South India

    By: Corinne G. Dempsey

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    Kerala Christian Sainthood is an ethnography-based study that celebrates the multi-vocal function of saints. Drawing on pilgrim anecdotes, shrine practices, official hagiographies, and regional lore, author Corinne Dempsey demonstrates how the business of saints routinely extends beyond their capacity as earthly conduits of miraculous power. Saintly characters described in this book, hailing from the religiously pluralistic south Indian state of Kerala, tend not only to the health and happiness of individual devotees but help craft and express the multiple identities and complex power relations of their devotional communities as well. Throughout the study, Dempsey highlights the traditions of Sr. Alphonsa of Bharananganam (1910-1946) and St. George the martyr, two figures who reflect the many preoccupations of Kerala sainthood. Sr. Alphonsa, native of Kerala and famous for her life of suffering and posthumous power, stands in line to be canonized by the Vatican. St. George, the caped dragon slayer imported to Kerala by Syrian merchants and later by Portuguese and British colonizers, is today partially debunked by Rome. These two figures, while differing dramatically in temperament, nationality, age of cult, and Vatican standing, boast a vast popular appeal in Kerala's Kottayam district. In examining Sr. Alphonsa and St. George, Dempsey shows how Kerala's saint traditions reflect devotees' hybrid identities in both colonial and postcolonial times. This ethnography of Christian sainthood within a Hindu cultural context, of "foreign" traditions adopted by native practice, and of female sanctity negotiated through patriarchal expectation is poised at a number of intersections. Dempsey provides not only a comparative study of cultures, religions, and worldviews, but also a unique grounding for contemporary ethnographic, post-colonial, and feminist concerns.

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