Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Talking religion with Professor Raj – Part 1

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2020 | 12:21 AMPaul H. Williams - Sunday Gleaner Writer

Professor Raj
Professor Raj

Professor L. Anthony Savari Raj, the holder of a PhD in philosophy from the University of Madras, India, has an impressive résumé, and that is perhaps why he was selected to share his knowledge with students at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, in the capacity of ‘visiting professor’ on the ICCR Chair of Indian Studies, under the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, and the Indian High Commission in Jamaica.

His sojourn was arranged through a memorandum of understanding between the Government of India and The UWI “as a sign and effort to promote mutual understanding” between both entities.

He is professor of philosophy and former head of the Department of Arts at Manipal University Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. He was lecturer and senior lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, University of Madras, for more than a decade.

The UWI is his latest stop on the international lecturing circuit, for he has been a visiting professor of philosophy and religion in several prestigious institutions in India, including the Indian Institute of Technology, and was the recipient of a 2012-2013 Fulbright-Nehru visiting lectureship in the Department of Religious Studies, George Mason University Fairfax, Virginia, USA.

The scholar has received several national and international research fellowships such as the Charles Wallace Visiting Fellowship, University of Bristol, UK, and the Woodstock International Visiting Fellowship, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA. He has authored two books, including A New Hermeneutic of Reality: Raimon Panikkar’s Cosmotheandric Vision, in addition to numerous research articles published in several reputable national and international scholarly journals.

Philosophy of religion

Now, he is lecturing four courses in UWI’s Department of Language Linguistics and Philosophy, in the Faculty of Humanities and Education. The courses include Major Themes in Indian Philosophy, and Philosophy of Religion, which is offered as an open elective, which “explores the question of religion in an intercultural and interreligious light”. He will also offer public lectures on India to “enhance mutual understanding between cultures”.

When he was asked to explain the philosophy of religion, he said that religion, philosophy, and culture are three elements of the human reality. “The question of the nature of philosophy is already a philosophical question and intimately connected with what religion stands for. An inter-cultural approach shows that one cannot separate philosophy from religion and that both are dependent on the culture which nurtures them,” the married father of two daughters postulated.

He calls him an “Indian Catholic as this may better portray my cultural belonging and sensitivity”, he told Family and Religion. “If religion is a way to a fulfilment, it is clear that the walking has to be done on a ground which we may call culture. To pretend that one’s faith transcends culture is to be ignorant of the dynamics of culture. No religion can be culturally free and neutral.”

The man who wants to be projected as “an intercultural philosopher at UWI” said further, “In our times, I believe what ultimately is required on the part of religions is humility to recognise and confess that they are not self-sufficient in constructing the entire picture of reality all by themselves and that they need one another.”

Professor Raj is a native of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, a country that can aptly be described as a melting pot of religions, some of which have millions of followers and are among the biggest in the world. Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and others are among the religions that originated and evolved in India. They constitute a wide range of religious communities and are not confined to the Indian subcontinent.