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)
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)
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.
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)
This essay introduces central features of classical Hindu reflection on the existence and nature of God by examining arguments presented in the Nyāyamañjarī of Jayanta Bhatta (9th century CE), and the Nyāyasiddhāñjana of Vedānta Deśika (14th century CE). Jayanta represents the Nyāya school of Hindu logic and philosophical theology, which argued that God’s existence could be known by a form of the cosmological argument. Vedānta Deśika represents the Vedånta theological tradition, which denied that God’s existencecould be known by reason, gave (...) primacy to the revelatory texts known as the Upanisads, and firmly subordinated theological reasoning to the acceptance of revelation. Jayanta and Deśika are respected representatives of their traditions whose clear, systematic positions illumine traditional Hindu understandings of “God” and the traditional Hindu debates about God’s existence and nature. Attention to their positions highlights striking common features shared by Hindu and Christian theologies, and offers a substantial basis for comparative reflection on the Christian understanding of God’s existence and nature, and the roles of reason and revelation in knowledge of God. (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)