This essay carefully examines the debate between Hegel and Wilhelm von Humboldt about the meaning of the Bhagavad Gîtâ, and more specifically about several verses in Gîtâ 6 regarding the radical emptying and purification of the mind. My aim is to propose a new and wider conversation, not possible in Hegel’s time but necessary in ours, between European scholars and peer Indian intellectuals in traditions familiar with the Gîtâ for centuries before any European knew of it at all. To exemplify (...) this new work, I attend to the reading of the same Gîtâ 6 passage by the famed philosopher and theologian Madhusûdana Sarasvatî. In this way, the European inquiry into the status of Indian thought and religion ceases to be an exclusively European endeavor, becoming instead a beneficial and mutually corrective crosscultural and interreligious conversation about texts and history, philosophy and theology. (shrink)
Despite Augustine's reputation as the father of Christian intolerance, one finds in his thought the surprising claim that within non-Christian writings there are 'some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God.' The essays here uncover provocative points of comparison and similarity between Christianity and other religions to further such an Augustinian dialogue.
In Christ and the Cosmos Keith Ward again rethinks Christian doctrines, so as to restore their intelligibility and relevance. Throughout, he commendably notes parallels in other traditions that have pondered the unity and complexity of the divine. But such references are invariably general and brief; little insight into theologies arising elsewhere is achieved. Even in a small book, mention without depth may imply that no premodern learning answers questions arising in and for the globalized West. But gently sidelining the concepts (...) of premodern traditions risks also losing their transformative energies, making less likely the revitalizing of doctrines of God beyond and in the world. (shrink)
Beyond Agreement addresses the thorny question of how to make interreligious dialogue productive when the religious differences are so large that finding common ground seems unlikely. The book offers a way to think about interreligious dialogue that allows people to stay committed to their own truth as they have come to know it while being open to learning from other religions.
The Ālvārs are the seventh–ninth century Tamil poet saints whose works achieved the status of sacred canon in what became, after the time of the theologian Rāmānuja, the Śrīvaiṣṇava community and tradition of south India. Their poems are honored as excellent poetry, as expressive of the experience of the poets themselves and of their encounters with Nārāyaṇa, their chosen deity, and finally as revelation, the divine Word uttered in human words. This thematic issue of Sophia is interested in investigating the (...) transformations or adaptations that a human language — speaking, writing — undergoes when transmitting a divine message, a revelation expressed in human words. This essay suggests that exploring how traditions have thought and performed the divine in human language can be undertaken usefully; that spiritual charged poetry is a powerful medium of divine communication in human words that both fall short in speaking of God and yet, in that failure, speak eloquently; and that reading intertextually, even interreligiously, is a way to disclose powerfully that divine communication. This essay reflects on all this by studying closely verse 57 of the Tiruviruttam of Śaṭakōpan, the greatest of these poet saints. It aims to show how even the outside reader — ‘the pilgrim reader’ who is neither a native nor a tourist — can enter into the interpretive process and find, in the elusive poetic words, a point of access to the revelation of the tradition. Some brief comparison is made with the interpretation of the Song of Songs in Jewish and Christian commentarial tradition. (shrink)
The following reflections were originally an oral response to issues raised in Lee Yearley's presentation in May 2009 at Harvard Divinity School. As written here, they follow upon his oral and now written comments, highlighting key issues and points for development, drawing on this respondent's expertise in comparative and Hindu studies.
Ever since Clifford Geertz urged the “blurring of genres” in the social sciences, many scholars have considered the crossing of disciplinary boundaries a healthy alternative to rigidly maintaining them. But what precisely does the metaphor of “blurring” imply? By unpacking the varieties of visual experiences that are normally grouped under this rubric, this essay seeks to provide some precision to our understanding of the implications of fuzziness. It extrapolates from the blurring caused by differential focal distances, velocities of objects in (...) the visual field, and competing perspectival vantage points to comparable effects in the intersection of different scholarly disciplines. Arguing against the holistic implications of Geertz's metaphor, as well as the even more totalizing concept of “consilience” introduced by E. O. Wilson, it suggests that blurring implies new types of complexity between or among those disciplines. (shrink)
This essay explores a certain kind of uncertainty, a fuzziness, that occurs in inter-religious study where the religions involved both highly prize clarity, truth, and specific commitments. Reading that crosses religious borders creates a body of new insights and even spiritual experiences that neither fit easily into the settled doctrines of traditions nor contest those doctrines by offering new, liberal, or relativizing alternatives. Rather, productive spaces open up wherein spiritual insight and uncertainty go hand in hand, created and accentuated by (...) study, a stubborn fidelity to detail, and the ability to live with incertainty. By way of example, this essay offers an instance from a current study that the author, a Roman Catholic, is undertaking of intensely devotional medieval Hindu poetry, in part read along with passages from the biblical Song of Songs. The uncertainty carefully cultivated in this kind of study is, he argues, beneficial for those who remain committed to doctrinally robust traditions but also engage in the study of other, similarly robust traditions. (shrink)
In the 13th and 14th centuries CE the Śrīvaiṣṇava Hindu community of south India struggled to integrate the traditional values of the older brahmanical hierarchical system with the devotional egalitarianism that had come to the fore with fresh force in the Tamil vernacular tradition in the 7th and 8th centuries and thereafter. One of the most vexed aspects of this integration pertained to caste, and whether devotionalism foreclosed a continuation of traditional caste distinctions: do divine love and grace mandate radical (...) egalitarianism? Śrīvaiṣṇava theologians were divided on the issue, some more conservative, some more radical in their rhetoric about continuity and change. Yet, as this essay argues, none were willing to go to the extremes either of dismissing caste structures entirely or of entirely subordinating devotion to caste. New values were to take primary place, while old norms were to be reinterpreted and given new meanings. Analyzing well-known examples from the tradition they argued instead a balance between norms and exceptions, treating violations of caste as occasions to glorify the power of devotion but without predicting the end of caste altogether. Attention to this case sheds light on caste and devotion in the Hindu context, the nature of ethical debate in India, and consequently too ways in which rhetoric functions more widely in ethical analysis. (shrink)
Instead of searching through Hindu sources for appropriate insights into the questions related to "playing God" in biomedicine, the author seeks rather to understand why some Hindus at least are not inclined to ask such questions. Using examples from the r vai ava sect of south India, the author shows how r vai ava Hindus focus primarily on character formation and the practice of the virtues encoded in the classical texts, thereafter leaving it to the individual to "act as he (...) or she will" in the world outside the community – a world which is neutral vis à vis religious values, neither governed by such values nor able to instigate the adjustment of religious values to fit changing times. The question then becomes, "What do modern ethicists have to learn from the moral discourse of the r vai ava community?" Keywords: "playing God", r vai ava, Hinduism, virtue CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)