Brown Missionaries and the Anglospheric Hegemony

In the centre of Cambridge there are these missionaries preaching the Word of God and the love of Jesus.

It’s the yellow-shirted people and they are entirely brown.

They come from Kent but I can’t place them perhaps they’re Sri Lankan origin as I don’t know any other British Asian community with a large Christian community.

The thing is that I don’t see Christianity as having any real local colouring but simply as a phenomenon in Westernisation. Off-hand the only “indigenous” coloured Christianity I can think of are the Ethiopians and at a stretch the Armenians & Georgians otherwise I see Christianity as a very white man’s doctrine (apologise for the sentiment).

It’s interesting how the virtual world shapes the real world; the day after we post about “Shady Missionaries” in India I see a Tom of brown missionaries literally on my doorstep. Life imitates art.

The older a religion gets the more tied up to Empire and race it becomes. It’s conceivable that in a millennia the Bahá’í Faith is inexorably associated with the 19th-21st Anglospheric Hegemony (Abdul Baha was a Knight of the British Empire and the only country in the world we absolutely cannot teach the faith in is Israel) in the same way Christianity was with the Roman One.

Anglospheric Hegemony

I wouldn’t be surprised if future historians term the date of this period from Queen Vic’s accession in 1837 to The Donald’s election in 2016 as a period when the English speaking peoples really ruled the earth (with a few interruptions – 2 World Wars and a Cold War). Of course the Napoleonic War preceding this period and the Franco-Prussian war in the late 19th century (which shifted the diplomatic balance in Europe permanently) were major skew events.

I’m pretty ambivalent on Donald Trump but his blunt boisterous nature is upending a world order that his own people (the Anglo-Americans) have created. It’s all well and good in trying to capture the zeitgeist of a populist age but free trade and the movement of goods and services have predominantly benefitted American corporations in tying the world in its orbit.

Anglo-Saxon culture isn’t as refined as the continent (Opera, haute couture & cuisine are good barometers; the English are the best at plays but off-hand i cant think of a single decent English language opera) but it’s hugely successful dispersion (English literature/small and American silver screen) is a reflection of the capital advantages they accrue and the immense political power of their civilisation. Once The Donald tries to upend the entire system (NAFTA, trade agreements with China) in such a public and humiliating manner it spurs lesser powers to create alternative systems.

China’s embrace of Pakistan and Sri Lanka is a good example of where weak nation states are allying themselves to a dominant cross-civilisational power; China now has what Russia never did, which is direct land access to a warm-water Indian Ocean port (and straight to the oil routes bypassing the straits of Malacca).

The Rise and Rise of China won’t mean that the US won’t be the pre-eminent superpower for decades or centuries to come but it won’t be able to operate as a hegemon in the same manner. The US’s attempt to counterveil Iran & Pakistan will be balanced by China; as in Europe we could very well see the rise of Inner Asia if Modi abandons Iran. India as an outward naval power allied with the “Allies” (Israel and India being the only true democracies in the region supposedly) while the rest reaffirm their own ties to one another as despotic autocracies (Russia – China – Iran – Pak).

Idle speculation on my part..

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27 Replies to “Brown Missionaries and the Anglospheric Hegemony”

  1. For indigenous Christianity, have you not looked at Syrian Christians of Kerala
    who are Nestorians and have their head quarters somewhere in the sands of Syria
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Thomas_Christians
    They are well integrated into the Kerala society. The Puranaic Encyclopedia was compiled by Vettom Mani .
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vettam_Mani
    https://archive.org/details/puranicencyclopa00maniuoft

    Talking of Bahais and Anglospheric hegemony, Aga Khan Ismailis have also gone world wide under the British Empire, even though Ismailis have much ancient history going back to Assassins.

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    1. Yes sorry I forgot the Syrian christians – I had thought about the Nestorian church and “Oriental Christianity” (Assyrians etc) but that’s a minuscule fraction..

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          1. Even Greek Orthodox had lot of following among Arabs and others in west Asia historically. Actually, some of old Popes (and Roman Emperors) were Syrian.

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  2. Beyond a point, we can’t talk of ‘indigenous religion ‘ in these days of globalisation.

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  3. It’s all well and good in trying to capture the zeitgeist of a populist age but free trade and the movement of goods and services have predominantly benefitted American corporations in tying the world in its orbit.

    So Trump is trying to do to America what the Ming Dynasty did to China?

    Speaking purely from a realpolitik perspective, if the US is going to be Trumpian in the foreseeable future (and the EU is going to devolve into atavistic nationalisms), I don’t see what’s in it for India to become an anti-China anti-Iran US lackey in the region. A Trumpian US is not going to do India and Indians any favors, and will likely end up doing a lot of harm by disrupting supply-chains in goods and services, and preventing more Indians from studying in, or immigrating to, the US. The US will also be useless as a military partner, given the geographical distance between the countries.

    In this scenario, it would be quite rational for India to seek a rapproachement with China; concede (in spirit if not in words) Chinese superiority in Asia and negotiate a lasting border settlement. In return, India could ask China to stop financing our enemies (Pakistan’s army) and include India as an equal partner in an Asian free trade zone. That’ll help India save lots on border defense and focus on building human capital internally, a process that must be accelerated in an isolationist world.

    Perhaps this is a pipe dream (and to be honest, as a staunch classical liberal who likes Western culture, I don’t like this option) but it ought to be considered given where we seem to be headed.

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    1. While I appreciate the point of negotiating a lasting border with China, I think it has only a weak chance at becoming reality.

      I don’t think the reasons for this being only Indian apathy or political chaos of democracy. China will be legitimately afraid of India overpowering them even if a truce is negotiated in near term. I don’t see why China would think it is better to not fund Pakistan against India. It is in their advantage to have India handicapped maintaining its borders.
      India should continue what it did before and continue the friendly relationship with Russia. That is the only possible way to balance the Indo China relationship.
      There is a reason China occupied Tibet and continues to hold on to it. They are not that blind to Indian potential even if it rarely manifests. They have the advantage of being patient with the long game.

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  4. @Violet:

    Good points! Though China may do the calculations a bit differently if it became clear that there would be no military alliance between India and the US. Historically, India and China have never had a military conflict (I know there was a mild skirmish once back in the 7th century or so, but that’s really a blip) and India pretty much conceded China’s absorption of Tibet a long time ago.

    And I agree with you about continuing (or resuming, to be precise, as things were frosty for a while, I believe) relations with Russia.
    As an aside, though I’m no fan of Russia’s authoritarian system, I’ve been very disappointed with the pervasive Russia-bashing that has been in vogue in the US since Trump’s election. I suspect it’s based less on substance and is more a form of catharsis for American liberals and the mainstream media, who still feel shocked at the election outcome and guilt at having “allowed” it to happen.

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    1. Israel and India will probably stand out in the region for obvious reasons.. the Great Game will take place in SE Asia but Saudi will stay as a US proxy too

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  5. They come from Kent but I can’t place them perhaps they’re Sri Lankan origin as I don’t know any other British Asian community with a large Christian community.

    Quite likely a majority Sri Lankans (probably mostly Tamil) and the odd South Indian.
    You should have had a chat with them.

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  6. The largest sources of soft power for the foreseeable future are likely to be America and India (Yoga, mediation, breathing, stretching, martial arts, spirituality, neuroscience, Bollywood). China might economically dominate but lacks soft power.

    In Indonesia and Malaysia for example Indians are seen as great people. Greater than the Chinese. Many parts of Asia admire India because of their deep Arya cultural connections with India.

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    1. ‘soft power’ of India is hyped up. ‘soft power’ works where there is a hard power to back it up. As Netanhahu said in a recent meeting New Delhi ( Raisina ??) he prefers hard power to soft power
      For many countries in the world outside the west , China may seem a model of governance than India. India is not exactly a poster boy for democracy . India needs to get it’s act together. In the long run what matters as a country is
      a. have you protected your citizens reasonably well
      b. have you given them decent standard of living .

      History is too bothered about how you did these things.

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      1. India’s soft power extends to South Asia but not much beyond that if Bollywood is a proxy.

        It brushes against K-Pop and Hollywood.

        However this will change very soon since no-one does glamour like B-town ..

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    2. ‘soft power’ of India is hyped up. ‘soft power’ works where there is a hard power to back it up. As Netanhahu said in a recent meeting New Delhi ( Raisina ??) he prefers hard power to soft power
      For many countries in the world outside the west , China may seem a better model of governance than India. India is not exactly a poster boy for democracy . India needs to get it’s act together. In the long run what matters as a country is

      a. have you protected your citizens reasonably well
      b. have you given them decent standard of living .

      History is not too bothered about how you did these things.

      That is where even a superpower like USSR broke up. For all the human costs, it’s economic delivery was pathetic. That si what China has avaoided.

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      1. For many countries in the world outside the west , China may seem a better model of governance than India.

        It may seem so, but ultimately every country needs to chart its own blueprint for governance and development. China’s model works for China; there’s no guarantee it’ll work for other countries. Japan and Korea developed in different ways, Singapore in yet another way. Looking at many European countries covered by the Marshall plan (and South Korea and Taiwan), one could conclude that being under the US’ military umbrella is the right model, but that would be ignoring the particular circumstances those countries found themselves in.

        What every country needs to do is understand the limits of its power and influence and act accordingly. I think Indian political and bureaucratic elites may have an exaggerated opinion of their (and their country’s) power. This “ancient civilizational heritage” and “soft power” nonsense has gone to their head. They need to realize how brittle India is in the inside, with our very poor human development index. If our people live crappy and insecure lives, their ability to hobnob with the world’s elite will serve no purpose.

        Would a China-style authoritarian system work in India (even disregarding its desirability)? I suspect not; I’d think it would end up causing more strife and possibly a breakup of the country. For all its faults, I believe the US is a better model (though hardly a perfect one.) More devolution of power to state and local institutions, making them more responsible to their residents, I believe is key. The central government should focus on maintaining a military and a judiciary and create a true free-trade zone throughput India to make the economy work more fluidly. Since states don’t have much power in many respects, they make petty rules that hamper interstate commerce and create more avenues for corruption.

        (Sorry, this comment turned out a lot longer than intended.)

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          1. Ambanification is by the super rich, for the super rich and to the super rich. Model of what not to be.

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        1. Sometimes I wonder if better economic prospects don’t lead to more strife.

          As mentioned in other threads it is the abroad sikhs and NRI Telugus funding the divisions. If hatred is contained due to the pressures of survival, it will start splintering again once there is some economic progress.

          It is unlikely that all groups will have even economic progress. Some will do better than others and others can become super rich in one or two decades. For some, they might move from below poverty line to above it.

          Naturally this would increase resentment even though it could be historical and random effects ( eg language, education, resources for stable electric grid) that are creating disparities.

          India getting its act together is much tougher because US become more liberal after it was more prosperous but India is being expected to be more liberal (and was more liberal, eg universal voting rights, affirmative action reservations) before it can be prosperous.

          Note that untouchability was unlawful in India and it was illegal to bar entry for untouchables before the US got its civil rights movement. If anything China has shown liberalism and capitalism don’t have to go together.

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  7. India is a free trade zone – no restrictions on movement of capital, labour or goods within it’s borders.
    I would agree with “More devolution of power to state and local institutions, making them more responsible to their residents, I believe is key”
    Each state should have some autonomy in it’s economic and commercial interests for example each state can have it’s own Trade Mission in India or abroad.

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  8. “The thing is that I don’t see Christianity as having any real local colouring but simply as a phenomenon in Westernisation. Off-hand the only “indigenous” coloured Christianity I can think of are the Ethiopians and at a stretch the Armenians & Georgians otherwise I see Christianity as a very white man’s doctrine (apologise for the sentiment).”

    This can be seen as very bigoted comment (what is defined as indigenous anyway? How long should it be in india and south asia in general). First all brown christianity is indigenous as it is practiced by the “brown” natives of that land and even changes according to geography. I know you said you forgot about kerala christians,but that is a glaring omission! They have been in India for more than a millenia, as someone mentioned they had integrated into local culture, these Nasranis as they and others called themselves, were merchants, warriors, in government and served their Hindu Kings in one way or another. Nasranis have been in India longer than Islam, older than some Hindu movements and older than the formation of Sikhism (not picking on muslims, sikhs neo-hindu movements, all indigenous, but just trying to juxtapose). You give the appearance of trying to “virtue” signal right wing hindutva elements, or maybe its a soft target you can attack here and not face any outrage (sorry I had to be the one to do that, but it had to be said). In relation to Nestorian christianity in the past was located in areas aside from south india, that are in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tibet today. The Nestorian church was at one time bigger in population and geographic location than the western and orthodox churches and stretched from present day Iran all the the way to korea and possibly japan. Christianity is not seen any longer as a “western” religion, it is now a global religion and white people now will be a minority. Africans, asians and latin americans (vagueness about whether they’re considered white or not as they are a western origin culture) will be majority. I don’t mean to criticize you Zack but I expect this type of either uninformed or prejudiced comment from the saffron hued commenters, I just did not expect you to stoop so low. If anyone would like to understand christianity’s indigenousness in Asia and how it is not a “western’ religion today should read two books by the author and Baylor University Professor Philip Jenkins “Lost Christianity” and “Next Christendom: the coming of Global Christianity”.

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    1. I agree my language was clunky and I apologise for that but I would distinguish between Oriental/Orthodox Christianity and the newer “Western forms” (Roman Catholicism + Protestantism) that goes hand in hand with empire..

      Of course the hypocrisy being is I am partial to an arguably colonial / imperial culture (Persian, Arabic & Urdu) but maybe it’s my own bias but I never felt they were as pernicious in their segregation. Again this is more sentimental than fact..

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  9. “Sometimes I wonder if better economic prospects don’t lead to more strife.”

    The more educated and affluent a Pakistan and Sunni Gulfie is; the more likely they are to be sympathetic to Jihadi Islamist ideology. Why do you think this is?

    At the same time I have found that more successful people tend to be more interested in art, culture, religion and spirituality. They have tasted money and know that money by itself is a dead end. Character also appears to be correlated with career and business success. [Maybe because people prefer doing business with people who have character.]

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