Selva J. Raj


Interreligious dialogue is a vital theological concern for the Catholic Church in India. Over the past three decades, church leaders, progressive theologians, and maverick monastics have experimented with various models and forms of interreligious dialogue. Quite distinct from these contrived institutional initiatives is the dynamic of intimate, subtle, and spontaneous ritual exchange and dialogue between ordinary Hindus and Catholics occurring in the arena of popular piety and rituals at the grassroots level - often in opposition to institutional norms and directives - that may be described as "dialogue on the ground." In light of ethnographic research at the shrine of St. Anthony at Uvari in Tamil Nadu - that serves as a representative sample of regional shrines in rural south India - this essay focuses on the logic and grammar of a specific public ritual locally known as asanam as an illustrative case-study of the 'dialogue on the ground,' delineates the social and religious themes embedded in this ritual, and reflects on its implications for interreligious dialogue.

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