Authors

Jeremy Poynting

Abstract

There is a marked contrast between historical and sociological constructs of the religious experience of Indians in the Caribbean and its portrayal in fiction. The historical evidence is that whilst there have been major changes away from the cultural practices and world view that Hindus and Muslims brought with them as indentured labourers to the Caribbean, a majority of Indians in Trinidad and Guyana adhere in some way to the rites, beliefs and values of Hinduism and Islam. Even today, despite determined Christian proselytization and the material advantages which conversion offered in the past, less than twenty percent of Indians are Christians. Hindus and Muslims worry about the state of their religions and the Pundits and Mulvis complain about the increasing secularization of their flocks, but it is clear that being a Hindu or Muslim is central to many Indians' personal identity and to the survival of Indo- Caribbeans as a distinct cultural group. Though Indian attitudes to Christianity and converts are by no means uniform, in general they have tended to be relaxed. There was gratitude for the role of the Christian missions in championing Indian education in the past, though resentment and active opposition to aggressive attempts at conversion. Those Christian Indians who became socially prominent aroused a mixture of pride and envy, pity and contempt for 'abandoning' their own culture. In the past, popular Hinduism borrowed and absorbed elements of Christianity (just as Indian Presbyterianism became progressively rehinduised); in the present one senses a measure of ecumenical indifference.

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