Friday, August 14, 2009

‘Beyond Compare: St. Francis and Sri Vedanta Desika on Loving Surrender to God’

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Francis X. Clooney, S.J., a Roman Catholic priest and a member of the Society of Jesus, joined the Divinity School in 2005. After earning his doctorate in South Asian Languages and Civilizations (University of Chicago, 1984), he taught at Boston College until coming to Harvard. His primary areas of scholarship are theological commentarial writings in the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions of Hindu India, and the developing field of comparative theology, a discipline distinguished by attentiveness to the dynamics of theological learning deepened through the study of traditions other than one's own. He has also written on the Jesuit missionary tradition, particularly in India, and the dynamics of dialogue in the contemporary world. Professor Clooney is the author of numerous articles and books, including most recently Beyond Compare: St. Francis and Sri Vedanta Desika on Loving Surrender to God (Georgetown University Press, 2008), The Truth, the Way, the Life: Christian Commentary on the Three Holy Mantras of the Srivaisnava Hindus (Peeters Publishing, 2008) and Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders (Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming). His current projects include an exercise in dramatic theology, the reading of Bernard of Clairvaux's sermons on the Song of Songs along with Nampillai's commentary on Satakopan's Tiruvaymoli, a study of 18th and 19th Jesuit Indology.


Prof. Clooney pointed out that since his work was like the interpretative work of a dancer or a musician, there was a great deal of practice and hard work that went into it right from the choice of subject. “It took me several years to narrow down on whom to compare”, he said. He added that “the minute you compare to celebrate one over the other, or compare to just get common quotes, it is not comparison in the real term.”

So what does Vedanta Desika, the 13/14th century preceptor for Vaishnavites, have in common with St. Francis, a 17th century Catholic priest from Geneva? Both valued writing and in their written work, they hoped to pursue the devotee to perform a religious act itself. Both sought to transform the reader and used older texts to reinforce their message. Most important, both urged the reader to introspect and find out what it takes for him to surrender unconditionally to God. The book has several interesting passage on these topics. The audience was treated to a few enthralling readings. Catching up with Prof. Clooney after the session for a short interview, helped put the book in a greater context.

Srivaishnavism is a very interesting tradition, philosophically and theologically, and it shows us a complete religious way of life. The fact that Srivaishnavism flourishes in both Tamil and Sanskrit makes it all the more beautiful. The poetry of Divya Prabandham in particular is very lovely. He is appreciative of the Vaishnava temples, their architecture, imagery, and the worship that takes place there. In many ways, I have found Srivaishnavism to be parallel to Roman Catholicism, with a similar depth, breadth, and wholeness.

He has several book projects in mind, including more work on the Srivaishnava Bhagavatha Visaya, certain songs and commentaries compared with medieval Christian commentary on the Biblical Song of Songs. I have also been doing research on the Jesuit tradition of inter-religious learning in India, and may soon have something more to write on that.
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source The Hindu Friday Review

2 comments:

lixue said...

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sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about these Sanskrit books?

http://www.YogaVidya.com/freepdfs.html