Theology professor looks at highs, lows of multiple religious participation

John Thatamanil.

John Thatamanil.

John J. Thatamanil, associate professor of theology and world religions at Union Theological Seminary, speaks about the pitfalls and possibilities of multiple religious identities at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, at Bates College’s Benjamin Mays Center, 90 Russell St.

His lecture, Church Upstairs, Yoga Downstairs: The Challenges and Promise of Multiple Religious Participation, is presented by the Rayborn Lindley Zerby Lectureship on Contemporary Religious Thought, which honors Professor Zerby’s many years of service to Bates.

Originally scheduled for January, the talk was postponed because of weather. Admission to the lecture is free. For more information, call 207-786-8272.

Thatamanil, who was born and raised in South India but now resides in New York, studies and teaches comparative theology and religious pluralism. His work, which focuses on the Hindu-Christian and Buddhist-Christian dialogues, is driven by what he has described as “a basic commitment to a deeply metaphysical form of philosophical theology” that connects Christian and non-Christian religious traditions.

Thatamanil wrote his first book, The Immanent Divine: God, Creation and the Human Predicament, An East-West Conversation (Fortress Press, 2006), as a conversation between the eighth-century Hindu thinker Sankara and 20th-century Christian philosopher Paul Tillich. He argues that borrowing ideologies from both religions leads to a richer understanding of the divine presence in human life.

Thatamanil is working on his second book, Religious Diversity after ‘Religion’: Rethinking Theologies of Religious Pluralism, as well as serving as chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Theological Education Steering Committee. While he has practiced Christianity since childhood, he also defines himself as “an aspiring albeit infrequent practitioner of vipassana,” a form of Buddhist meditation.

The Zerby Lectureship on Contemporary Religious Thought was established with a gift to Bates in 1965 and honors Zerby, a professor who devoted many years to the growth of Bates. He chaired the Department of Religion and Philosophy from 1930 to 1945. He served as director of the College Chapel (now the Peter J. Gomes Chapel) from 1945 until his retirement, in 1962, and was appointed dean of the faculty in 1958.