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Open AccessArticle

‘Smell Your Sheep, Shepherd’: What Does It Mean to be Catholic for the Dalit?

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Bombay, Mumbai 400076, India
Religions 2019, 10(12), 659;
Received: 30 September 2019 / Revised: 7 November 2019 / Accepted: 7 November 2019 / Published: 4 December 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Dalits and Religion: Ambiguity, Tension, Diversity and Vitality)
The anthropology of Christianity has emerged as an exciting field in the last decade or so. Themes of interest for us in India and South Asia in general include issues of caste, conversion and belief, the ideas of sin and morality, individualism, and the like. As part of this growing field, the issue of belief in particular has gained considerable importance. It has been argued that the strict reliance on belief is obstructive and counterproductive for the understanding of non-Western Christianity, particularly where religious affiliations may be shifting rather than stable. Moreover, it has been suggested that belief could be laid aside in favor of the notion of commitment, wherein the latter term encompasses presence, embodiment, shared social location, and the like. This paper argues that while the discourse oscillates between belief on the one hand and commitment on the other, the intermediating term between these might be community. There are social and spiritual divisions, which the available discourse does not immediately allow us to contend with. In the words of one Dalit Catholic, the church must be with its people, the Bishop-Shepherd must ‘smell’ his sheep. This paper will explore how it is precisely the absence of community that Dalit Catholics experience when they find that Christian equality becomes physical separation and Christian fraternity remains outside the social domain and will suggest the implications this has for the anthropology of Christianity.
Keywords: Dalits; Tamil Nadu; community; belief Dalits; Tamil Nadu; community; belief
MDPI and ACS Style

Robinson, R. ‘Smell Your Sheep, Shepherd’: What Does It Mean to be Catholic for the Dalit? Religions 2019, 10, 659.

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