MY LATEST ETHNOGRAPHIC POST GRADUATE RESEARCH WITH PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION
It gives me great pleasure to welcome this study of religious and social identity in the village of Thalampitiya in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka by Bishop Keerthisiri Fernando. I supervised Keerthi’s earlier research at the University of Kent and got to know him well as a friend. He is a person of enormous energy, so it comes as no surprise to me to find that he can still make time to continue active research even while he is serving as the Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka. This is a remarkable achievement. The Sinhala Christians in this village offer a fascinating illustration of complex identities that have changed radically over time and in response to major political and social shifts. Despite being a minority population, their higher levels of education and facility with the English language clearly benefited them under British rule, but faced them with a major challenge after Independence in 1948 and, again, in the 1970s onwards in a context of increasing globalization (with American English becoming the dominant international language). Insights from this interesting study can, of course, be applied to, and refined by, other studies of Christian minorities around the world. Perhaps it is precisely when Christians are in a minority, especially in societies where they face widespread criticism and even hostility, that religious identity can become particularly important for individuals. In contrast, Christian identity can be more difficult to detect in societies where Christianity is, or once was, dominant. For the latter it is more like seldom-noticed wallpaper, whereas for the former it is more like a prominent mark on the forehead. It will excellent if this book inspires others to study the fascinating complexities of worldwide Christianity at local levels. There is a treasure-trove waiting to be explored here that should inspire research for many years to come. Robin Gill Emeritus Professor of Applied Theology at the University of Kent, UK.