Francis Clooney’s talk on his books at Chennai: A Vaishnavite-Christian dialogue

Francis Clooney’s talk on his books at Chennai: A Vaishnavite-Christian dialogue


Prof Clooney’s lecture had been arranged at F-50 hall of University of Madras on Tuesday August 4, 2009 at 11.00 am. The lecture program was arranged jointly by the departments of Vaishnavaite Studies[1] and the Christian Studies[2], under the auspices of Narasimhachariar’s Endowment Lecture. Even around 10.50, the hall was empty, as there were only four or five sitting there. Slowly, around 40 persons gathered by 11 am of which 3/4th had been Christians of the Christian Studies department and as well as Clooney’s friends[3]. Of the audience, the Vaishnavites (Iyengars or Hindus sporting Namam on their foreheads) had been elders of age above 60 / 70, whereas the Christians have been young. It is not known as to why the students of Vaishnvite department had not attended the program. Thus, it is evident that the program had been dominated by the Christians.

(Note: To understand the proceedings, interested readers and friends are requested to read the mentioned articles[4], as they have bearing on the present lecture of Prof Clooney).

G. Patrick, Lecturer, Department of Christian Studies: As a post-centenary celebration program of University of Madras, several Endowments were constituted during the year 1984 and Sri Narasimhachariar’s Endowment has been one of them…… He has been a Vaishnavite scholar, visiting professor to Mauritius teaching Hindu Philosophy…….. Thus, under the auspices of the Endowment, Prof Clooney’s lecture has been arranged and we are happy to invite Prof Clooney from the Harvard University………. Proof M. A. Venkatakrishnan has been the HOD of Department of Christian Studies (sic) and we thank him for arranging the program [Here, there was some commotion, as one of audience pointed out, he was HOD of Vaishnavaite Studies. An visibly upset Venkatakrishnan, correcting Patrick by shaking hands]. Oh I am sorry, I mentioned unconsciously……..[a comment from the audience, telling that it could be “consciously” also…………. Prof Clooney was starring at that side, where that comment was coming].  There are many programs to take place and I invite all of you to attend such programs……

Patrick addresses

M. A. Venkatakrishnan[5], HOD, Department of Vaishnavite Studies: Prof Clooney has been author of many books on Vaishavism and his interest in Vaishnavism has been remarkable…….. He has written many books on Vaishnavism and he is an authority…………. He is just like a honeybee collecting nectar from different flowers………..I thank Prof Patrick for helping me to arrange this program. It is a lecture of inter-religious dialogue. The University of Madras itself insists that such type of “dialogue” meetings should be conducted., In fact, there has been a proposal to start a separate department to start for inter-religious dialogue studies. Thus, the inter-religious studies have been forefront gaining importance nowadays…There will be two lectures with a break in between with discussion and questions……..

MAVenkatakrishnan, Narasimhachari, clooney and Raghavan on the dias

M. A. Venkatakrishnan, Narasimhachari, Clooney and Raghavan were on the dias, as Patrick spoken.

Narasimhachari receives purse

MAV, Clooney and Narasimhachari.

Clooney comes to address

Clooney got up to address!

Prof Francis Xavier Clooney: I thank organizers…………I happy to be here on the occasion of celebrations of 25th year of the Christian Studies department (started in 1983)…….I know Prof M. A. Venkatakrishna since 1982, when I first met him at Triplicane, who helped me in many ways………….. He helped me in getting books, materials about my study abut Vaishnavism………..I also thank Dr Bhooma[6], who is a well known scholar here, helped me many ways……..I had opportunity to visit many temples going inside…….and learn bakti……in inter-religious studies one has to learn from others crossing the boundaries……….People may think how a Roman Catholic could learn from Vaishnavism………..or they may think the Christians come here and get information and write books….superficial learning or understanding would not help, as one has to read the books completely for better understanding of other religions. As mentioned, my talk would on two books – The Truth, the Way, the Life and “Beyond Compare: St. Francis de Sales and Vedanta Desika on loving surrender to God”[7].
There have been different types of approaches in the inter-religious studies:

  • Some people create walls built in between them…….We are Christians and we are Vaishnavites and therefore we should not read about others.
  • Allowing others to learn about us, would be a threat to our religion and therefore, we should not allow others to study our religion…but not allowing learning others is also a bad idea.
  • Our religion is complete and therefore, we need not learn from others is also wrong.
  • The attitude that my religion is superior to yours is incorrect in 21st century……….

The definition of “Theology” has been some thousands years old…… could be simply “faith seeking understanding”………It could be paradox “faith seeking”[8]..being a believer with questions could be also part of such definition…….I went to Katmandu in 1973 and returned in 1975… 1984 I became Dr Clooney. But I cannot stop my studies. I continue research and write books, These two books were released last year and I am going to write a book on “Bhagawat Vishyam”.

One may ask why Vedanta Desika should be taken for comparative study. Why not Vanamamalai or Pillai Lokachariyar?….Definitely, I think about a book on them also……..But here, in the context, the study has been about the “Rahasya Traya Saram” – three mantras of the chapters 27, 28 and 29.

Clooney addresses

The so-called “dialogue” of Discussion and questions: After the first lecture was over, questions were invited. K. V. Ramakrishna Rao asked addressing to Prof Clooney and Prof Venkatakrishnan (MAV), “I am K. V. Ramakrishna Rao from Chennai. I had privilege of having discussion with Fr Bede Griffths[9], Fr Ignatius Hrudhayam[10] of Ikkiya Alayam, I hope Prof Clooney must be remembering him and others of course Prof Clooney whom I met twice earlier and my question has been in the context of inter-religious dialogue. Both of you have been professors in the respective studies. Therefore, if each could accept God of others as one’s own God, then the inter-religious issue can be solved”. Patrick objected to it and urged to ask question related to the topic. Rao insisted that it was related to the topic only. Venkatakrishnan interjected to say that Clooney was making comparative study and therefore there is no question of telling my God is superior to yours or inferior etc. Clooney was telling that the question should be related to his book. Then, Rao asked, “Out of the four mantras, why you selected only, “Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit” comparing with the Divya mantras? But Venkatakrishnan told, “Your time is over”! So the next “questioner” rose to compliment Clooney without asking any question paving way for the second lecture! Thus, in this way, the “dialogue” was conducted!

KVR asks questions

K. V. Ramakrishna Rao, an independent researcher who questioned both professors MAV and Clooney.

In his second lecture, Clooney accepted the fact that when De Sales was living there was religious conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholic Christians killing each other. Thus, it is not known in his Vedanta Desikan period, was there any religious conflict in south India?

My God is your God and Your god is no God: The dialoguers have been in the attitude of “My God is your God and your god is no God”. However, in the inter-religious dialogue and comparative studies, such claims cannot be made. Perhaps, Clooney himself has noted such point in his blogs[11]. The quoted Pope’s speech could be noted, as he reportedly mentioned “God” instead of naming the god[12]. Clooney interpreted, “What he really means, it might be said, is that “God” is “our Jewish, Muslim, Christian God,” not “their God.” Unfortunately, here also, the western religious experts want to exclude the Eastern religions from their purview, obviously with the concept of “al-kitabia”, the people with revealed books / scriptures and without. As mentioned by K. V. Ramakrishna Rao[13], “Theo-centric and theocratic eclectics are dangerous as nuclear, chemical and other warheads. The concept of “My God is your God, but your God is no God” does not foster understanding, co-operation and goodwill.” The concept should be changed to “Your God is my God and my God is your God,” and accepted by all religions”. Therefore, instead of allowing Clooney to respond, Venkatakrishnan has evidently committed a blunder. In fact, as he was stressing for “inter-religious dialogue” during his introductory speech, he should have come forward to respond openly, instead of covering up an important issue. Or if Clooney interprets that such mutuality of understanding is applicable only to the three religions mentioned and not to others, then definitely, MAV has failed in his duty and also prevented Rao from further questioning Clooney. Then, naturally, the fundamental question is raised, why they talk about “dialogue” when they do not want or have no guts to have such “dialogues”?

Section of the audience LHS

Was the program stage-managed by the Christians? The way in which the proceedings were conducted appeared that the Christians had stage-managed the lecture-program exploiting the provisions of University of Madras. The Christians dominated at all levels, in organizing the program, assembling in strength and co-coordinating at all levels, whereas, the so-called department of Vaishnavite Studies and the HOD Venkatakrishnan had simply carried on their wish in arranging the program. It is not known that the University of Madras wants to conduct “inter-religious / faith conferences, seminars and lectures” in this way. The above point raised also questions the very fundamental of “dialogue”, after all, the dialogue of religions cannot be done without their gods!

Section of the audience RHS

“The Vaishnavites” failed in the dialogue? MAV should be held responsible for such a situation, as the suspicion of needle points to him also. That is why, few days back, I warned as follows:

“Let us have dialogue with him: There is no meaning in hiding or keeping quite or crying wolf, when he has been very much here. If the Vaishnavites feel really thyat he has offended their theology through his books, he should be challenged in Chennai itself without mincing words. If any such meeting / lecture is arranged, it should be a dialogue and not monologue. Let him talk for 30 minutes or half-an-hour. Then, a Vaishnavite scholar or anybody should be given an opportunity to counter his propositions or arguments the HOD department of Vaiushnavite Studies department Venkatakrishnan in spite of mentioning about “inter-religious dialogue” and so on, actually knows or does not know about it!”

But none cared and ironically, the “Vaishnavites” have only given platform to Clooney and encouraged such “monologues”. The Pope has been very clear and Clooney cannot do anything beyond:

The Vatican II Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate) says ‘The Catholic Church rejects nothing of true and holy in these religions………yet she proclaims and is duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6). Besides, the ‘DECLARATION DOMINUS JESUS’ adds, “the various traditions contain and offer religious element which come from God, and which are part of what ‘the spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures, and religions’” (Art No.21).”

Does MAV aid and abet Nostra aetate and Domininus Jesus? Now, a serious question rises as to how and why knowingly or unknowingly, some Vaishnavites should aid and abet the principles of Vatical Council-II? In a single stroke, Clooney has faithfully fulfilled both the above points:

  • yet she proclaims and is duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6): thus, his first lecture revolved around his book: “The Truth, the Way, the Life” So here, he is exposed as, he cannot say that , “Christ who is the way, the truth and the life” is different from his title of the book  “The Truth, the Way, the Life
  • Ironically, it is said, “Francis Clooney’s commentary is explicitly Christian and yet deeply indebted to the classic reading of the mantras by the 14th century theologian Vedanta Desika; it thus exemplifies an interreligious learning appropriate to the 21st century and yet, in the end, still deeply Christian[14]. Then MAV like Vaishnavites act as collaborators of Cloney?
  • Coming to the second point, “the various traditions contain and offer religious element which come from God, and which are part of what ‘the spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures, and religions’” (Art No.21).” Thus, the spirit that Nammazhwar was talking about is only “the spirit” as perceived by the Vatican, the Pope and Clooney.
  • Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit:” is nothing but equivalent to Sri Narayanaya Namaha and SrimanNarayana-caranau-caranau prapadye and “the spirit” is “Narayana”!.

Only “Narayana” alone could help: Indiuans / Hindus have not understood the implications of inter-religious / faith dialogue and inculturation,. Instead of, they have been in their own world and indulging with the westerners extending all logistic supports. But what is targeted has been thousands of years old culture, tradition, heritage and civilization by the conscious Christians. The present modern world has already demolished their fundamental tenets of Christianity rendering Jesus a myth. Under such circumstances, in stead of safeguarding their belief-system, they have unnecessarily but venomously targeted Hindu religion and trying to confuse all. Actually, the Christianity is going to get negative results by indulging in such unethical “theological” experiments.

It is ironical that MAV like Vaishnavas scholars with all their high qualification could not understand Clooney, as hundreds of his articles prove how he has been rather an agent of Benedict, the present Pope. He takes every opportunity and writers / posts a blog supporting the above Vatican.s agenda of inter-religious dialogue and inculturation under the purview of “Dominus Iesu”[15].



[1] For details, see at:

[2] For details, see at:

[3] After the meeting, Clooney was seen with  groups of Christians talking introducing themselves mentioning that so-and-so met him at so-and-so place and so on.

One American Professor (with ponytail) who was staying at Shantivanam also came, in fact he was one of the four audience by 10.50 am. Shantivanam is the controversial “Inculturation” centre, that created heat discussion during 1980s resulting in the series of books published – Catholic Ashrams, The Hindu-Christian Dialogue etc., by Voice of India. There was many letters appeared in Indian Express  (Madras edition) later forming part of the mentioned books.

[4][4] Vedaprakash, How Catholic Clooney became Vaishnavite Researcher?, dated 31-07-2009.

………………, “Beyond Compare” and the Christian-Vaishnavite encounters,

………………, An Exploration of Inter-religious Understanding: A Hindu-Christian Perspective, dated 18-07-2009.

………………, Francis Xavier Clooney in Chennai!, dated 17-07-2009

J. K. Bajaj and M. D. Srinivas, Core Issues of Hindu-Christiuan Dialogue, Idol-worshgip, Cow-protection and conversion, may have been issued in 2007 subsequent to the “discussion meeting” held on Wednesday March 14, 2007 at the Centre for Policy Studies.

Dr S. Kalyanaraman,  A Note on Comparative Theology as a dangerous intrusion into sacred space, dated 06-08-2005.

……………………., The Futility of Inter-faith Dialogue – A meeting with Francis X Clooney, dated 10-08-2005.

[5] For details, see at: and

[6] Dr. Bhooma is wife of Dr M. A. Venkatakrishnan married in 1982. An avid companion of her husband in all his religious pursuits, Dr. Bhooma has B.Ed (’83), M.A. (Vaishnavism, ’87) and PhD (’95) degrees to her credit. Her PhD thesis was on the topic “The Contribution of Nanjiyar.” In addition to working as a Part-Time Lecturer in the Department of Vaishnavism, University of Madras, Dr. Bhooma also lectures on Sri Vaishnavism at various locations. Dr. MAV and Dr. Bhooma have one son, Chi. Madhusudhanan, who is a student of BCA at Vaishnav College, Chennai.

[7] Francis X. Clooney, Beyond compare: St. Francis de Sales and Vedanta Desika on loving surrender to God, Georgetown University Press, 2008.

[8] When “faith” is faith, i.e, belief, devotion, commitment, faithfulness, loyalty, dedication etc., there is no question of seeking such faith of one group of “believers” about the belief of other “believers”.

[9] Founder of the controversial “Catholic Ashram” and builder of Hindu-temple like Church and crucified OM there at Tannirpalli (Kulitthalai, Karur District) very near to Sri Ramakrishna Tabhovanam and some 100 kilometres from Sri Rangam! As mentioned, Clooney was camping there.

[10] Founder of another controversial Ashram at Chennai near to Mylapore, where Clooney had stayed several times during his sojourn to Chennai since 1980s.

[11] In Case You Missed It: Pope Benedict’s Most Generous Interreligious Vision Posted at: 2009-06-02 20:58:08.0 Author: Francis X. Clooney, S.J.




[15] Francis X. Clooney, SJ: “Interreligious dialogue is here to stay”

“The Pope Speaks – As If Dialogue is Here to Stay”, by Francis X. Clooney, SJ. America April 25, 2008:

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17 Responses to “Francis Clooney’s talk on his books at Chennai: A Vaishnavite-Christian dialogue”

  1. M. Nachiappan Says:

    It is ironical that the Vaishnavites there did not ask any questions.

    From the photos seen from the other postings, it is evident that Prof M. A. Venkatakrishnan appears to be very orthodox and traditional, but how he supports Christian Clooney is not known.

    In fact, had both accepted the Gods of other, the “dialogue” would have been over once for all and that is why perhaps, they tactfully avoided.

    This clearly proves that MAV has been aiding and abetting Clooney.

  2. A Free Spirit Says:

    I suppose the question might involve how two parties can learn to disagree. I must admit the rigidity sanctioned under the rubric of religion would not be acceptable in other domains. Perhaps this means there is a larger problem…

  3. vedaprakash Says:

    But the so-called “dialogue” is reportedly or supposedly meant for for two parties can learn to agree not to disagree, if at all, the dialogue is a ‘dialogue”!

    The second point is accepted.

    As for as about your apprehension of “larger problem”, it would nice, if you could come out with your views.

  4. C.N.Muthukumaraswamy Says:

    I thought vaishnavites are very strong and well equipped intelluctually to counter act the inculturaisation of christianity into vedhic religion. What is the result if this dialogue .? Christians have made a dent in the Depart. of Philosophy, Madras University.

    • vedaprakash Says:

      Definitely, they have been ingtellectual enough to counter, but there have been moles in every relion and they have been helping Christians and even Muslims. The other day, my friend pointed out how an Sri Rangam Iyengar turned Muslim touring Gulf countries reciting Vedic and other verses to prove that Hindus knew Allah and Mohammed, even before Mohammed and Islam!

  5. padmanabhan Says:

    every religion and its subsect are at times fight till end.dogmos should be removed. In Muslim befoe last Prophet there were more than 2 lakhs Prophets. in Hindu dharma God will appear whenever there is injustice.Christians have to think of God three times , Hindus too think god three times for Muslims the no. is 5 .
    thank you, yours sincerly V.padmanabhan

  6. D.Srinivasan Says:

    Dr. Venkataksrishnan and his wife Booma belong to Southern culture of Vaishnavism (Thenkalai). Hence they help indirectly the christians in mudslinging on Vedantadesika’s works and his philosophy especially the saranagathi thatva. Theological Research is non-neutral between ends. If everything goes well as per the plan of the Pope Benedict the professor duo may dubb St. Manavalamamunigal, Nanjeer. Piillailogachar and others as Christians by faith and would establish that they espoused the spread of Christianity through Sanskrit and Tamil Granths.

    • vedaprakash Says:

      Thank your very much for your response pointing out one important aspect of The “dialogue”.

      I do not know where you have been (your location) and if it is possible, next time you can attend the meetings of Prof Clooney, as it is arranged by the couple and as well as by others throughout India.

      Indians require such critical research and studies to expose the tricks played bdehind such comparative theological studies going on and the result -books published and discussed at University level.

      Whereas, other discussions would be going on between the faithfuls, within houses and among the friends, which is not recorded.

  7. Vinjamoor S. Vijaya Raghavan Says:

    A few friends and some contacts in U.S. used to ask me about Hinduism and also about Hindu religions. Mainly I tell them of Hindu philosophical thoughts and particularly Visishtadvaita TATVAS based on Sri Ramanuja’s works like Sri Bashya, Vidyartasangraha, etc., Srimad Bhagwat Gita and other scriptures (as I have understood) and Divya Prapanda (Tamil). I used to explain to them that Hindu philosophy is based on Vedas and is UNIVERSAL and that any person belonging to any religion can study these and understand this philosophy and realise who he is in realilty, what is the Supreme Reality, what is the higher purpose of one’s birth and how he can achieve it, THE ONE SUPREME POWER (GOD) that is COMMON to all irrespective of the religion one belongs.
    Trying to compare one religion’s teacher with another’s looks like a child’s play. It is just diverting one’s supreme purpose in life.

    • vedaprakash Says:

      But this child is different.

      Perhaps, you would have seen the movies “Child’s play” I, II and III and perhaps IV also, as you are in USA.

      Here, not only comparision is made, after comparison, results are drawn that Vaishnavite concepts are possibly derived from the Christian teachings.

      And note, many Vaishnavites from US help him.

  8. a.g.swamy Says:


    • vedaprakash Says:

      With my personal knowledge about Joseph of Pondicherry, I doubt his credentials, as he has been making money out of “lecturing on” Vaishnavism.

      Definitely, he has been trained person, just like Zakir Naik, who recited Vedic verses in Sanskrit!

      Last year, in Chennai during a Conference, not only he came late but picked up quarrel with organizers, with scant regard for decency and decorum.

      Of course, MAV accommodates him in his monthly journal, as his articles are published.

      Above all he has been conferred the titile “VAISHNAVA SUDARAZHI”, which he puts everywhere!

  9. Ramanujan Says:

    Why Dr MAV arranged such a dubious inter religious meet? I am really anguished to see vaishnaivites letting Ramanuja sampradayam down. There is no need for such a meet since Ramanuja has condemned them as bahiyas. Atleast we should not be party to it. It will amount to betrayal

    • vedaprakash Says:

      I can understand your feelings, if Clooney or Witzel comes to Inda, Madras, Trichy, Pondicherry…………… time,catch hold of them and question them.

      Then only, they understand the feelings of Indians and Hindus.

  10. Ramanujan Says:

    I will definitely question them. I think I have the wherewithal to do so with Sriman Narayana’s grace and adiyens acharyas(incl Dr MAV) grace. I would like to participate in Srivaishnava forums if only I come to know

  11. The Christian-Vaishnavite dialogue continues: Clooney’s 2011 visit to Chennai! « inculturation Says:

    […]… […]

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