On the Inner Edge

Charlottesville, VA. This is the first in a new series of opinion pieces I will post at this new site, so allow me to introduce myself.

I have been a Jesuit (for nearly 50 years), Catholic priest (for nearly 40 years), and a professor at Harvard Divinity School (now in my 13th year, after 21 years at Boston College). I am an expert on certain texts and traditions of Hindu India, particularly in the Sanskrit and Tamil languages, on certain strands of Jesuit missionary learning in Asia in the 16th-18th centuries, on the possibilities for Hindu-Christian theological exchange, and on the general possibilities of interreligious learning as true Catholic theology, in the field I have come to call “comparative theology.” You can find some more information on all this at my Harvard website, and at this new website where this blog is posted. My latest books are His Hiding Place Is Darkness: A Hindu-Catholic Theopoetics of Divine Absence (2013), The Future of Hindu-Christian Studies: A Theological Inquiry (2017), and How to Do Comparative Theology (forthcoming), a collection of essay I have co-edited with Klaus von Stosch, University of Paderborn, Germany. I’ll tell you more about my current projects in the course of the months to come.

In the midst of my teaching and lecturing, writing and lecturing, and (from 2010 to 2017) directing the Center for the Study of World Religions, for nearly ten years I was happy to post blogs in the “In All Things” site of America, the Jesuit weekly magazine. In 2007, I had been invited by the editors to write as I wished, but particularly with an eye toward the interreligious realm. Once or twice a month, I would comment on interreligious learning, its limits and challenges, Vatican documents and statements on other religions, my travels abroad for interreligious events. I would also write, as the occasion arose, on a host of issues related to American culture, trends in society today, perceptions of Catholics in the media, and occasionally, national and ecclesial politics. Altogether, I posted 300 blogs, and you can find them here. It was good to have that opportunity at America, and I continued, posting 300 blogs, until at the beginning of 2017 America notified me that they were discontinuing In All Things.

During those years, and over the past months, I also realized that (like many another academic) I had a duty of sorts, to make something substantive of my position and resources, as an at least tentatively engaged public intellectual. And so, I have decided to write again, probably on a more occasional basis, and on a similar range of issues. For this, I am simply using an OpenScholar site at Harvard, now linked to my new website, which too has just appeared.

I wanted to respect America’s desire to retire the “In All Things” name, and in deciding to start blogging again, needed to come up with something new. After discarding innumerable alternatives, I have settled, for now, On the Inner Edge. I must, in admission of the fact of expertise that I lack, leave to others the “outer edge” of social and political analysis, religions and cultures as historical and cultural movements engaging one another in the most complicated ways, dialogue as a matter of societal change and institutional commitments, philosophies and theologies as sites where traditions meet secular culture; it is on the “inner edge” that I will offer my reflections now and then, near that interior surface of our souls, as it were, where the burning issues of the day have their greatest and most urgent spiritual implications, and where the experience of God in mind and heart rushes outward toward the world around us.

And so I begin, again. I will try this for a while — for a year or so — to see if there is an audience for my occasional reflections. And for this to work, I of course need the assistance of readers – to comment and question, indicate what in my writing makes good sense and what does not. I look forward to our collaboration in this new venue. This blog is introductory; my first substantive piece will appear in a week or two.