Pedagogies of Prayer: Teaching Orthodoxy in South India

Naumescu, V. (2019). Pedagogies of Prayer: Teaching Orthodoxy in South India. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 61(2), 389-418. doi:10.1017/S0010417519000094

Abstract: This article focuses on religious pedagogies as an essential part of the practice and the making of modern religion. It takes the case of the Syrian Orthodox communities in Kerala, South India to examine how shifts in pedagogical models and practice have reframed their understanding of knowledge and God. The paper highlights two moments of transformation—the nineteenth-century missionary reforms and twenty-first-century Sunday school reforms—that brought “old” and “new” pedagogies into conflict, redefining the modes of knowing and religious subjectivities they presuppose. For this I draw from historical and pedagogical materials, and ethnographic fieldwork in churches and Sunday schools. The paper diverges from widespread narratives on the missionary encounter by showing how colonial efforts to replace ritual pedagogies with modern schooling were channeled into a textbook culture that remained close to Orthodox ritualism. The “new” pedagogy turned learning into a ritualized practice that continued to emphasize correct performance over interiorized belief. Contrasting this with todays’ curriculum revisions, I argue that educational reforms remain a privileged mode of infusing new meanings into religious practice and shaping new orthodoxies, especially under the threat of heterodoxy. This reflects a broader dynamic within Orthodox Christianity that takes moments of crisis or change as opportunities to turn orthopraxy into orthodoxy and renew the faith. The paper engages with postcolonial debates on religion, education, and modernity, and points to more pervasive assumptions about what makes Orthodox Christianity and the modes of knowing and ethical formation in Eastern Christianity.