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The Christian-Vaishnavite dialogue continues: Clooney’s 2011 visit to Chennai!

August 12, 2011

The Christian-Vaishnavite dialogue continues: Clooney’s 2011 visit to Chennai!

Silent critics, active dialoguers and sleeping theologians: The visit of Francis Xavier Clooney to Chennai / India during July-August 2011 has not been informed, noted or publicized by his critics like last year or so[1]. Those who used to write something to him or to the newspapers have also been silent. Like last year, perhaps he has also not started his blogging at “American Catholic Journal” site[2]. However, from the media (mainly through browsing), I find thare has been coverage about him attending seminars, conferences as usual. I have just tried to collect and post here for reference chronologically. Readers and interested dialoguers can add, point out the left outs and other comments as usual.

 

1. Hindu Texts for Christian Theology?—Prof. Francis Xavier Clooney SJ[3]: This was the topic of the special lecture given by Prof. Francis Xavier Clooney SJ at Vidyajyoti on July 27, 2011. He spoke of the importance of reading the texts of other religions while doing Christian theology[4]. Doing theology in the Indian context evidently calls for special attention to Hindu texts. In many ways, reading and reflecting on other religious texts are similar to reading and reflecting on biblical texts. In either case, one needs to give much time and go back to the text again and again. This leads to better understanding and newer insights. One needs to ask: What is the God experience hidden in the Hindu/Christian text? Dr. Clooney illustrated his ideas by bringing together select texts from Song of Songs of the Bible and Tiruvaymoli of the Tamil bhakti tradition.

Dr. Clooney is the Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology at Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is also the Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions. He is well-versed in the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions of Hindu India and is an acclaimed contributor in the developing field of comparative theology. The scholarly lecture was very enlightening and led to a lively discussion moderated by Fr. George Gispert-Sauch SJ, an eminent Indologist and emeritus Professor at Vidyajyoti.

2. Shape of religious trajectories to come[5]: August 1, 2011:  No amount of praise will be enough for the Principal of the Chennai-based MOP Vaishnav College for Women and the Head of its Department of Sociology for organising an International Seminar on August 2, on the continuities and changes as well as the traditions and improvisations that are likely to influence the dynamics of religious trajectories in the decades ahead.
Not only is the choice of the theme imaginative and inspired in the light of the challenges, problems and dilemmas bearing on the precepts and practices of various religions, but it is also relevant and timely in the context of the debate provoked world-wide by the delusional rantings of Anders Behring Breivik who perpetrated the shocker of a carnage at Oslo (Norway).

The topics covered by the participants are a happy blend of the elucidation of the tantalising aspects such as the secularisation of bindi on the forehead, universalisation of religion in story-telling, Diwali as Nature’s nemesis and the power of Sanskrit, and the exploration of the important “affects” (as the sociologists call them to differentiate them from “effects”) of religion in relation to economics, environment, pluralism, globalisation and modernisation.

NOT A STAND-ALONE CONCEPT Karl Marx’s often quoted statement, “Religion is the opiate of the masses” is actually the concluding part of his observation which is not that censorious: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.” Religion is also the end-product of the quest of humankind for a dispenser of happiness and a refuge from forces of evil to which it finds itself unequal.

Saints, seers and sages have regarded religions as so many paths to the same Supreme Power by whatever name called. Scholarly writings based on a deep study of the real purport and purpose of religions of the world have quoted chapter and verse from every religious scripture to bring out the breadth of vision that looks at the whole humankind as one family and its total well-being as the paramount objective. Religion was never interpreted as a stand-alone concept but as being part of a continuum of religion-spirituality-ethics and morality-humanity.

Indeed, there are many passages in religious books enjoining respect for different faiths, harmony, fellow-feeling and compassion which are almost identical in language and content; if the information about the source from which they have been taken is undisclosed, it will be hard to tell which passage pertained to which religious teaching.

‘HEAVEN OF FREEDOM’ Of late, though, religious denominations are being exposed to severe tensions. First and foremost among them is the spread of religious prejudices, especially after 9/11. The Norway outrage cannot be dismissed as resulting from a single person’s sick mind, because there are many elsewhere too who entertain with varying degrees of intensity and conviction the same fears of being swamped by religious fanatics and immigrants with whom the native populations have little in common.

Second, social mores are undergoing a sea-change, throwing state-religion-society relations into a state of turmoil. As a paper on the subject of religious trajectories puts it, “demands for the recognition of gay marriage, teen marriage and inter-marriage…undermine existing religion-state agreements. Societies can….display secular trends, while state institutions remain bound to religious norms, or societies may become more religious while states remain, or attempt to remain, secular…” Third, the interconnectivities brought about by globalisation and the vast unknown of the new economy pose the dilemma of adjustment and threat of marginalisation to religion.

There are also unresolved questions about the impact on religion of advances in technology, such as space research poking into the Universe and genomics revolution abolishing death itself.

 Finally: Will the cumulative effect of all these changes be a situation in which either there will be no need for religion or the society will on its own be freed from the hold of any kind of religious identities, enabling the world to awake into that “heaven of freedom” described by Rabindranath Tagore in his poem “Where the mind is without fear…”.

3. Religious Trajectories: Continuities and Changes, Traditions and Improvisations[6]:  CHENNAI: In the modern world, understanding of God has become smaller and there is a need to go deeper into tradition to understand what God is like, according to director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University, Prof Francis X Clooney.

Addressing a seminar on Dynamics of Religious Trajectories: Continuities and Changes, Traditions and Improvisations at the M O P Vaishnav College here, Clooney said traditions were not the things of the past, they could cha-nge the world.

He said religion was not static and it kept changing as the modern world. “God is like a lover and tends to change. We can’t restrict him saying he belongs to me,” he said.

Clooney, who is also Parkman professor of divinity and comparative theology, said that in the current scenario the focus was more on power, politics as well as material gains and in the process, ireligion and tradition are ignored. He said the world could be changed by one who had religious values.

4. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Endowment Lectures: Department of Philosophy organized Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Endowment Lectures on 5th August 2011. Prof. Francis X. Clooney, Parkman Professor of Divinity and Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University, USA delivered two lectures on theme “Comparative Theology as 21st Century Christian Theology” and “The Drama of a God Who Comes and Goes: Reading the Biblical Song of Songs with the Srivaishnava Thiruvaymoli“.

The Principal, Dr. R.W. Alexander Jesudasan[7] presided over the function and the Bursar, Mr. C. Sundaraj and student and faculty of various departments were present on the occasion[8].

Loving God or devotee or dialoguer or incuturation? Only for the Indian Express report, I could respond as follows[9]: “Your report is partial, as Clooney’s intention has been otherwise. It is not that God is like a lover, but the question is the theologian’s attempt to impose enslaving act of restriction with the assertion that only “I can love him, you cannot”. Or “I can only love more than you”. But the the hidden agenda has been, “I love the God, but you do not; and you love a god that I cannot love”. As long as theocratic arrogance trots under the hypocritical religious superiority, love is lost!


[5] B. S. Raghavan, Shape of religious trajectories to come, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/b-s-raghavan/article2311234.ece

[6] ‘God Is like a lover, can’t restrict him’,  Express News Service, Last Updated : 03 Aug 2011 09:23:22 AM IST, http://expressbuzz.com/cities/chennai/god-is-like-a-lover-can%E2%80%99t-restrict-him/300447.html<

[7] DrR. W. Alexander Jesudasan. Principal. Address: Madras Christian College TambaramChennai Tamil Nadu 600 059.

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Bishop gets Gandhi award for public apology to Hindus!

October 31, 2009

Bishop gets Gandhi award for public apology to Hindus!

http://news. rediff.com/ report/2009/ oct/30/bishop- gets-gandhi- award-for- apology-to- hindus.htm

REDIFF NEWS                                  Last updated on: October 30, 2009 02:06 IST

The Reverend J Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, California, was awarded the Hindu American Foundation’s annual Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism at the HAF’s Sixth Capitol Hill reception in early October.
Bruno had last year offered a public apology to Hindus “for centuries-old acts of religious discrimination, including attempts to convert them”.
The Reverend Dr Gwynne Guibord, officer of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Concerns of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and Theological Consultant for Interfaith Relations for the Episcopal Church, US, accepted the award on behalf of Bruno and the other two awardees — Reverend Karen MacQueen, a priest in the Episcopal Church and Associate Rector of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pomona, California and herself.
In his acceptance letter read out at the event, Bruno again apologised profusely for the centuries-old discrimination against Hindus.
“As Mahatma Gandhi taught, cooperation and trust require a sincere commitment to truth,” Bruno said. “Mindful of our duty to the truth, I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we Christians often sought to dominate rather than to serve. In order to take another step in building trust between our two great religious traditions, I renew the apology that I have offered to the Hindu community for the religious and racial discrimination that Christians have directed towards Hindus for far too long.”
In her remarks, Guibord spoke of how touched she and her fellow awardees were at the “special and unexpected” recognition. “As the climate in our country becomes less and less civil and more violent in rhetoric and action, the work that we do together and separately becomes ever more urgent and important,” she said.
“Now more than ever we, as a community that seeks to protect the integrity of both our religions and our democracy, must stand firm in our collective commitment to eradicate hate, discrimination, defamation and dehumanisation of any and all of God’s created.”
Also receiving the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism was the American Jewish Committee represented by Richard Foltin, legislative director and counsel in the AJC’s Office of Government and International Affairs in Washington, DC, and Nissim Reuben, programme officer on Indian-Jewish American Relations. The AJC was recognised for its work in building bridges between the Jewish and Hindu communities worldwide.
“At a time of international conflicts in which the name of God is too often invoked as justification, it is hard to think of a time when Gandhi’s inspiring message of nonviolence and tolerance has not been more pertinent,” Foltin said.
Recalling the various occasions when the AJC and HAF have backed each other when their respective religions were under threat, Foltin said such cooperation is “the lesson that each of our faiths teach us”.
US Congressman Frank Pallone, founder of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, was presented with a Special Recognition Award for his services to the cause. US Congressman Danny Davis, Illinois Democrat and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who has taken up the cause of Tamils in Sri Lanka on the urging of Sri Lankan Tamil organisations supported by the HAF, said from his perspective of being an African American, his sympathies lay with the displaced Tamils, and vowed to do whatever he could to help.
The Pride of the Community Award was presented to Anju Bhargava, the only Hindu member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who said the infrastructure of the Hindu-American community needs to develop further.
Bhargava, the founder/convener of Hindu American Seva Charities, which promotes development and partnership of Seva Centers to provide social services in faith based institutions, said, “One of the things that I am working with as part of the Advisory Council is bringing an awareness of the post-1965 immigrants and especially those of the dharmic tradition — that our way of being and the way we worship and the way we practice is different from the Judeo-Christian model. So when the government reaches out to the faith-based community and it has a model in its mind, it needs to really look at the other groups that are there and understand the differences in the development. ”
HAF managing director Suhag Shukla, who emceed the function, said Hindu Americans across the nation increasingly saw the HAF as “a key stakeholder and an institution that reflects their own coming of age”.
Earlier in the day, members of the HAF’s board of directors and senior staffers had meetings with key US Senators and House members to press for increased scrutiny on aid appropriations for Pakistan. On domestic issues, the HAF backed the demand of other faith-based groups for fairness and compassion in legal immigration legislation, especially as it applies to religious workers, J-1 exchange physicians and widows and widowers of US citizens.
The religious worker Special Immigration program, as well as the J-1 waiver that gives state health agencies the ability to recruit foreign physicians to underserved rural and inner-city communities, are set to expire. The HAF also advocated for an end to the “widow penalty”, which places spouses of US citizens who die prior to the end of a two-year conditional period, in deportation.