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10 octobre 2007 3 10 /10 /octobre /2007 19:15
At the outset, I must acknowledge the fact that it is a unique privilege for us as a team from India, for me as a Jesuit representing a group of pioneers and sustainers of “Inter Religious Dialogue in India”, to be present amidst of you, honorable members and earnest seekers of ‘God at work in our world today’ under the banner of “Christian Social Teaching and the gift of Reconciliation to Today’s World,” at Coventry, UK.

India, A Miniscule Representation of Our World Today:
It is unique privilege for us for two reasons: First of all, India, which has a third largest population of Muslims in the world, two corers of Christians which in actual terms forms 2% of the total national population, along with a sizable number of Sikhs, Parsis, Zoroastrians, Jainas, and Buddhists, remains a miniscule representation of our world which is multicultural by its age old heritage and multi-religious by its variety of beliefs and belief systems. India is a phenomenon by itself of ‘various religions negotiating and re-negotiating to co-exist amidst of conflicts which have the potential threat to destroy their healthy contributions over the years. In spite of an un-forgettable communal clash that was unleashed on the Indian population after the demolition of a disputed mosque at Ayodhya and after the burning of railway compartments at Godhra, Inida has emerged out of such traumatic experiences and continues to invite its children to seek for peaceful co-existence rather than ruthless elimination of one another from the phase of this earth.  Secondly, In spite of ‘a bomb here and an explosion there’, hundreds and thousands of its innocent people dying every now and then, India continues to find ways and means of ‘living together’ as brothers and sisters of a single nation, ‘learning to negotiate with one another (many a times through legitimate institutions of legislature, executives, judiciary and media) and as citizens of a complex nation destined to realize the ideals proposed through its modern, political Constitution.

Against this panoramic view of India, let me share my points of view on the proposed topic on the “Inter-religious Dialogue in India”.

Inter-religious Dialogue as a Way of Life in India :

It is true that ‘inter-religious dialogue’ has almost become a way of life i) for many of our Christian, religious communities (whether it be the Jesuits, the Salesians, the SVDs or CMIs etc.), ii) for the millions of Christian laity who live out their day today life amidst of multi-cultural and multi-religious families, and iii) for the thousands of pastors/priests who proclaim the Word-Incarnate amidst of hundred and one religious ideologies prevalent among our people. Hence it would be more than a presumption to articulate all their thinking, living and experiences within this short time available. Hence it is a modest attempt in articulating the same through a concrete option of speaking for the “Jesuits Engaged in Inter-religious Dialogue in India.”

Chronological Account of Jesuits and Inter-religious Dialogue in India :

The Jesuit involvement in inter-religious dialogue in India goes back to the 16th century. At the request of the Moghul Emperor Akbar two Jesuits wnet from Goa to Agra to take part in the inter-religious conversations animated by him (1579-1580). Roberto de Nobili, who arrived in Madurai in 1606, was positive to Indian culture, but negative to Indian religion. But he did not simply reject it and ignore it. He argued with the Hindus and sought to show rationally that they were wrong. This means that he took them seriously and ‘dialogued’ with them, though polemically.
The next serious involvement starts in early 20th century. A group of young Belgian Jesuits in Bengal acknowledged what was good in Hinduism and saw it as a preparation for the Gospel. They saw Christianity as a fulfilment of Hinduism. They launched a journal The Light of the East. Pierre Johanns (1882-1955) wrote a series of booklets with the title To Christ Through the Vedanta, showing how the philosophies of the Vedanta find their accomplishment in the Christian philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. They were certainly inspired by Brahmabandab Upadyaya (1861-1907) who was a convert from Hinduism, but called himself a Hindu-Christian and Hindus like Keshub Chandra Sen (1838-1884) who considered Jesus as their guru, though they did not like the Church as an institution. Hindu culture and religion were learnt seriously and comparative studies were undertaken by such pioneers like Julien Bayart, Henri De Smet, and Josef Neuner (1908-). A special supplement to The Clergy Monthly (edited by the Jesuits) was started to publish such studies. It was later integrated into the main journal, which itself was rechristened later in 1974 as Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection. The broad paradigm that oriented them was the "preparation-fulfilment" one, which included a positive appreciation of Hinduism. Their approach to Hinduism was not only academic, but also personal.
Pierre Fallon and Robert Antoine in Kolkatha and Guy Deleury and Matthew Lederle in Pune mastered Sanskrit and other local languages, lived among the Hindus and dialogued with them in various ways. Some Jesuit scholars banded together and launched a correspondence course as an initiation to Hinduism. These lessons were later collected into a book.
Various Types of Inter-religious Dialogue in India: The Second Vatican Council only confirmed and encouraged this orientation. It is significant that one of these Jesuit pioneers, Josef Neuner, was in the committee that drafted the Document on Other Religions: Nostra Aetate. A serious interest in Hinduism continued and many young Jesuits undertook to study its philosophy/theology and spirituality. Let us briefly speak about the various different types of dialogue where the Jesuits and the people of God are at present engaged in India. The documents of the Church speak about four types of dialogue: of life, of action, of intellectual exchange and of experience. To these four, we could add three more: intra-personal dialogue, dialogue as reconciliation and theological reflection to prepare and support dialogue. We could use this framework to group the various activities of the Jesuits in the field of inter-religious dialogue. Given to our contemporary conditions, the term ‘dialogue’ needs to be more inclusive, in the sense that it includes not merely religions, but also secular ideologies.
1. The Dialogue of Life: The Jesuits in India have had a strong presence in the field of education. This continues and grows. Given the demographic conditions of India most of the students in these institutions and some of the teachers are members of other religions. It is here the ‘dialogue of life’ takes place very concretely. Though our dialogical presence seems institutional at the peripheral level, it is very much ‘incarnation-al’ at the deeper level. We offer ‘education’ which is open to all.
2. The Dialogue of Action: The Jesuits are involved in social and freeing action with many social centers, and projects. Much of the activity in this area is inter-religious. The Jesuits seek the collaboration, not only of people of all faiths, but also of secular groups. The beneficiaries of their action also belong to different religions. At the level of reflection and discussion, the Indian Social Institutes (both at Bangalore and Delhi) collaborate with many governmental and non-governmental organizations as a consultant.
3. The Dialogue of Intellectual Exchange: Jesuits have taken up the study of Hinduism and Islam, not merely out of an academic interest, but with the aim of reaching out to them. The orientation, however, has been varying. Roberto de Nobili, for instance, studied Hinduism to show the Hindus why it is wrong. In the early part of the 20th century the interest was much more comparative. There was a certain appreciation of Hinduism. But there was an underlying desire to show that Hinduism will find fulfillment in Christianity. A good knowledge of Hinduism was also considered necessary to proclaim the gospel meaningfully to the Hindus. The mood however changes around the time of Second Vatican Council. Hinduism is then appreciated for its own sake, though it is always set in dialogue with Christianity. But the dialogue is much more equal and mutual, with great respect for each other.
4. The Dialogue of Experience: This dimension of dialogue became common by many Jesuits ‘praying’ and ‘learning’ the various other methods of prayers like, Vipasana, Yoga and Zen etc. ‘Reading’ and ‘Listening’ together with the people of other faiths become popular in some of the Jesuit prayer centers like Ashirvad, Bangalore etc. ‘Being and Sharing together as believers was encouraged in centers like Aikyalayam, Chennai etc. Many ‘dialogue groups’ were formed in various cities in India and active interaction among the believers is still going on.
5. Intra-personal Dialogue: There are however many Jesuits who are searching for an Indian Christian spirituality and Indian Christian Identity. While not running an ashram, they are integrating elements of yoga like breathing, posture and meditation and other aids to concentration like music (bhajans, Slokas etc.), the prayer of the Name (naam jap etc.). It is a process of dialogue wherein each one is rooted in his/her religion (in our case, the Chrisianity), yet they felt free to adopt the healthy spiritual practices of another religion.
6.Dialogue of Reconciliation: For people of India, who are living in multi-religious societies like India people who belong to different religions have to live together as one socio-political community, respecting the religious freedom of each other. But it is an obvious fact that today’s world is heading towards greater and deeper violence between religious communities. In such a situation, dialogue then begins with ‘conflict resolution’, ‘healing of memories and reconciliation’ between different religious groups. Jesuit Institutes like IDCR (Institute of Dialogue with Cultures and Religions), Chennai are beginning to focus on conflict resolution and promoting harmony in situations of inter-religious violence, based on field surveys.
The Jesuits’ activity of inter-religious dialogue has triggered off two sorts of theological reflection. First of all, there has been a development in the theology of religions and dialogue in relation to the mission of the Church. Secondly, the dialogue with other religions, particularly Hinduism, has given rise to a contextual method leading to Indian Christian Theology. Theology is a reflection on our faith in the context of our living experience. Faith itself is a response to God speaking to us and calling us. If God has spoken also to our ancestors, in whatever limited ways, our response to God cannot ignore this. Thus theological reflection, in our Indian context, becomes both dialogical and inter-religious. For the last 25 years, Jesuits in India have taken this process seriously and have taken step after step gradually in living out their faith by regionalizing theological formation in the pursuit of inculturation. A serious attempt is being made to reflect on one’s Christian faith in particular contexts, which are many in a big sub-continent like India, and as far as possible in the local language, rather than in English. Such contextual reflection has to take into account, not only the cultures, but also the religions of India at all levels. At the moment the dialogue seems to be more with the popular religions since the people we relate to in preference are the poor and the marginalized like the Dalits and Tribals. The fruits of such dialogue and reflection are once again slowly emerging. Some more time may be needed for them to mature.
Conclusion
At a structural level, each one of the Society's 17 provinces and one region in India has a coordinator for inter-religious dialogue. They are animated by a national secretary. Regional and national meetings are held periodically for reflection, planning and animation. The coordinators are more or less active according to their abilities and circumstances. Of course the Jesuits are not alone in the field. They work with many other religious Congregations and the Laity. For example, while the Jesuits have two 'ashrams', there are more than sixty of them in India, big and small, with an association of their own. For the Jesuits in India dialogue has become a way of life. They are not agitated by theological questions like Jesuits elsewhere, though practical problems abound in a situation of increasing religious fundamentalism and violence, especially in some regions of India like Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Though India has a millennial tradition of religious tolerance, today our dialogue partners tend to be sensitive and aggressive. A global awareness in a post-colonial world is responsible for this. But the Jesuits with their educational and social institutions and their deep involvement in theological reflection and spirituality are trying to meet the contemporary challenges of inter-religious dialogue creatively.

Rev. Fr. V.S. George Joseph S.J.,
Dean of the Jesuit Faculty of Philosophy,
Chennai, India

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