ashrams, Christian

   Christian ashrams are spiritual retreats designed to speak to Christian converts in India. The ashram was an old feature of Hindu culture that was reborn at the end of the 19th century as part of the Hindu renaissance. Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi (1869-1948) and Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) established ashrams in the early 1920s. Built around an enlightened teacher (guru), the ashram was a place for retreat and intense focus upon the spiritual life. Participants could learn methods of meditation, hear teachings from sacred texts, and learn the duties of the religious life. Additionally, they could be instructed in daily living and the performance of family or occupational duties.
   In the early 20th century, Christian leaders around the world were eager to mold the Christian movement, so much based in Western forms and customs, into more indigenous forms in nonChristian countries, so as not to separate converts from their family, society, and history. In the 1920s, Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973), one of the more important students of Christianity and Indian culture who had spent time at both Gandhi's and Tagore's ashrams, began to explore using the form to organize the converts received into the Christian faith.
   The ashram was to be a local community living together over an extended period of time. In 1930, Jones met with Rev. Yunas Sinha and Ethel Turner to initiate the first ashram at Sat Tal, India. Theologically, the ashram would evolve from the perspective laid out in Jones's classic work, The Christ of the Indian Road. Jesus was pictured as an Indian holy man (a sadhu) who placed his hands upon the lepers and brought hope to the masses, eventually dying alone but rising to walk the roads of India again. Life at the ashram was thoroughly Indian and consciously identified with Gandhi and the nationalist movement. Clothing was made of homespun khaddar cloth, a symbol of the movement. Jones help found a second ashram in 1935 in Lucknow, hoping that community could model the kingdom of God. From these two centers, ashrams sprung up across India and even in the West.
   The original ashram founded by Jones evolved into an international retreat ministry, United Christian Ashrams International, whose centers conduct a set of retreats each year, most of them lasting three to seven days. As such, the ashrams serve as an interdenominational revitalization force within Protestantism in India and the 20 other countries in which they operate. A Catholic version of the Christian ashram was founded in 1950 by Jules Monchanin (1895-1957), Swami Abhishiktananda (Dom Henri Le Saux, 1910-73), and Bede Griffiths (1906-93). The Saccidanda Ashram Santivanam became the motherhouse of some 80 presently existing ashrams of Catholic initiative.
   See also India.
   Further reading:
   ■ E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road (New York: Abingdon Press, 1925)
   ■ Charles Wesley Mark, A Study in the Protestant Christian Approach to the Great Tradition of Hinduism with Special Reference to E. Stanley Jones and P. D. Devanan-dan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Theological Seminary, Ph.D. diss., 1988)
   ■ Michael O'Toole, Christian Ashrams in India (Indore, India: Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra, 1983)
   ■ Richard W. Taylor, The Contribution of E. Stanley Jones (Madras, India: CLS/CISRS, 1973).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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