Is India ready for scriptural reasoning?
The practice of reading spiritual texts together is gathering momentum. Technically known as scriptural reasoning — a practice of reading sacred scriptures, in small groups, together — there are about 20 such groups in the US and the UK, where it is gradually moving towards becoming a civic and community practice, its creator Peter Ochs co-wrote in a recent paper. Titled, Grassroots Scriptural Reasoning on Campus, this paper comes out of the presentation and practice of scriptural reasoning at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Chaplains at Duke University in February 2010.
Universities usually follow and try to decode the real world. But in a delightful change, two of them — Cambridge University and University of Virginia — are leading the charge on scriptural reasoning, a subject that could tomorrow turn into a field: spiritual reasoning, “a practice of reading sacred scriptures, in small groups, together,” according to Ochs, a professor of modern Judaic studies at University of Virginia.
“Normally the passages of scripture chosen are Jewish, Christian and Muslim and are linked together by a particular issue, theme, story or image,” Ochs, a professor of modern Judaic studies at University of Virginia, writes. “When read together in this way participants — or “reasoners” — have found that astonishing, powerful and, at times, quite surprising, new conversations and relationships may open up.”
The idea was to understand other religions, and expand the subject of theology. “Spiritual reasoning began in the 1980s as textual reasoning, a university-based forum for Jewish scholars of philosophy and Jewish textual scholars to meet and learn texts together in an effort to better understand each other, and to be able to tackle key questions about Judaism in the present and future,” according to the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme. “In the 1990s, the doors were opened first to Christians and then to Muslims. Now it is an “open-ended” practice, going on in groups in the UK, the USA and beyond.”
I think India needs such groups — it will help balm the otherwise hatred-filled, exclusive, suspicious or simply indifferent attitude that the popular discourse seems to be adopting in an otherwise harmoniously religious nation.
Ochs suggests how this can be done.
“If spiritual reasoning is to serve the good, then it must be facilitated and nurtured in a way that moves each circle of study to offer open and caring hospitality to each and all participants: the religious and the nonreligious, from this background and that, the learned and the not so learned.”
This diversity in place, he goes on to the modus operandi: “The ‘formula’ for such study is simple: a table, chairs, two or more sets of texts from the different canons, some variety of participants, a sensitive facilitator (or two), a spirit of respect for all texts on the table and trust that, however challenging the verses may at times appear, persistent and open dialogue and careful word by word study will in time — we pray! — open each fellowship of study to mutual care and friendship and open each participant to the possibility of simultaneous affection (at the very least, deep respect) for the wisdoms he or she brought to the study and those encountered anew around the table of study.”
I like the idea and I’m sure within the next six months some of you will test it. The question is: will vested interests who benefit from religious divisions allow this experiment to take form? Worth finding out.