Prayers not Protests: Christian Girlhood and an Ethic of Middle Class Life in Chennai

Friday, September 22, 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Cohen Hall, Room 337

249 South 36th Street

Philadelphia, PA 19104

Sneha Krishnan will examine the persistent antipathy to strike action and student-led protest at Christian educational institutions for women in the South Indian city of Chennai. The scholarship has tended to attribute this growing sentiment against student protests to the effects of neoliberalism and the rising tide of Hindu nationalism. Krishnan  draws on historical and ethnographic research to unpack the history of Christian ethical formation in which the opposition to protest action is located in women’s colleges in Chennai. Further, she argues that the discourse against direct action in these colleges draws on missionary Protestant theology to position collectivised protest as fundamentally opposed to the Christian duty of social work. This, she demonstrates, is rooted in a transnational history of Christian voluntarism that emerged in the early 20th century and shaped the ethical foundations of student life in India.


Sneha Krishnan is currently Junior Research Fellow in Human Geography at St John’s College, Oxford, where she is writing a book based on her DPhil research. Titled A Future in Past Tense: Girlhood and the Ethics of Time in South India, this book uses feminist transnational theory to look at the temporal imaginaries that undergird everyday ethical practice among middle class college girls in Chennai. This book dislocates the history of girlhood from that of the postcolonial nation-state by instead locating it within Tamil and South Indian articulations of modernity that emerged in dialogue with transnational Christian, spiritualist and progressive social movements in the early 20th century. Her second project, which she is currently planning, will look at religious forms and linguistic imaginaries of landscape among Tamil communities in Guadeloupe. Sneha’s work has appeared in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. She is also a contributor to edited volumes on gender and sexuality, as well as global youth cultures. Additionally, Sneha is involved in collaborative projects on urban history, histories of childhood and youth suicide.