Answer to Map #53

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Answer: This week’s map was a choropleth in which each Indian state was shaded according to the percentage of its population that professes Christianity.

The data used to make this map came from the 2011 Indian census. Unlike in the United States, where the Census Bureau is forbidden from asking about religion, the Indian census records a lot of useful information about the religions of its citizens. Overall, the most common religion in India is Hinduism (79.8%), followed by Islam (14.2%). Christianity comes third at 2.3%.

Even though such a small overall percentage of India’s population is Christian, that’s actually a lot of people in the world’s second most populous country. 2.3% of the Indian population in 2011 translated to just under 28 million people. Christianity is one of four religions in India whose adherents make up the majority in one or more states. Muslims are the majority in Lakshadweep and in Jammu and Kashmir. Sikhs are the majority in Punjab. And Christians are the majority in three states in the far eastern part of the country: Nagaland (88%), Mizoram (87.2%), and Meghalaya (74.6%). Christians also make up a plurality in Arunachal Pradesh at 30.3%. These high percentages are mainly the results of proselytizing by Western missionaries in this part of India during the years when India was a British colony.

The legacy of colonialism is also visible in several other Indian states. At 25.1%, Goa is the sixth most Christian Indian state, even though it is located on the opposite side of the country from the top five. Until India invaded and annexed Goa in 1961, Goa was a Portuguese colony for about 450 years—considerably longer than most of the rest of India was a British colony. Portugal tended to promote Roman Catholicism in its overseas territories, and many people in Goa remain Catholics today.

Not all Christianity in India is the legacy of colonialism. 18.4% of the residents of the state of Kerala in southwestern India are Christian. Kerala is the historical home of a religious community sometimes referred to as “St. Thomas Christians” or “Syrian Christians.” This community traces its roots back to the evangelism of Thomas the Apostle, who traveled to India in the 1st century CE to preach the gospel. Indian Christians have long maintained close ties with other eastern churches, including those in Persia and the Middle East. They continue to use Syriac, the liturgical form of Aramaic, as their language of worship, similar to many Christian communities in the Middle East.

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