Archive for the ‘Narayana’ Category

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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