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Vanderbilt University Divinity School announces the 2022 Cole Lecture

to be delivered by

Photo of Francis X. Clooney

Francis X. Clooney, S.J.

Parkman Professor of Divinity

Professor of Comparative Theology

Harvard Divinity School

Lecture Time and Details

Monday, October 10, 2022
7:00 p.m. 

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Hindu Poetry and Christian Particularity: Translation, Disruption, Revelation

In a world tragically wounded by many crises old and new, endemic and fiercely emerging just now, why would a 21st century Christian theologian take the time to translate medieval Hindu poetry from the Tamil language? This lecture ventures an answer to this honest question, reflecting on poetry and its forms and meanings, the possibility of encountering a religion other than one’s own by learning the forms and meanings of poetry, and the promise and risks of trying to make sense of such poetry in English. Artful translations intrigue and invite, disrupt settled patterns of learning, and in the end reveal (illumine by revelation) what God is like when heard and read in words heard and sung in religious cultures far away in time and place. “Hindu Poetry and Christian Particularity” draws on Francis X. Clooney’s many years of attempting to translate the poetry of the Hindu saints known as the alvars (“those immersed in God”). 

About the Cole Lecturer

Francis X. Clooney, S.J., joined the Harvard Divinity School faculty in 2005, where he is the Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology. After earning his doctorate in South Asian languages and civilizations (University of Chicago, 1984), he taught at Boston College for 21 years before coming to Harvard. From 2010 to 2017, he was the Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard.

His primary areas of Indological scholarship are theological commentarial writings in the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions of Hindu India. He is also a leading figure globally in the developing field of comparative theology, a discipline distinguished by attentiveness to the dynamics of theological learning deepened through the study of traditions other than one’s own. He has also written on the Jesuit missionary tradition, particularly in India, on the early Jesuit pan-Asian discourse on reincarnation, and on the dynamics of dialogue and interreligious learning in the contemporary world.

Clooney is the author of numerous articles and books, including Thinking Ritually: Retrieving the Purva Mimamsa of Jaimini (Vienna, 1990), Theology after Vedanta: An Experiment in Comparative Theology (State University of New York Press, 1993), Beyond Compare: St. Francis de Sales and Sri Vedanta Desika on Loving Surrender to God (Georgetown University Press, 2008), The Truth, the Way, the Life: Christian Commentary on the Three Holy Mantras of the Shrivaisnava Hindus (Peeters Publishing, 2008), Comparative Theology: Deep Learning across Religious Borders (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), and His Hiding Place Is Darkness: A Hindu-Catholic Theopoetics of Divine Absence (Stanford University Press, 2013).

Recent books include Reading the Hindu and Christian Classics: Why and How It Matters (University of Virgina Press, 2019) and Western Jesuit Scholars in India: Tracing Their Paths, Reassessing Their Goals (Brill, 2020), and St. Joseph in South India: Poetry, Mission and Theology in Costanzo Gioseffo Beschi’s Tēmpāva i. (de Nobili Research Library Series, Vienna 2022). His translation of the Hindu theologian Ramanuja’s Manual of Daily Worship (Nityagrantham) appeared in the International Journal of Hindu Studies in 2020. He is currently writing an intellectual autobiography tentatively entitled, Priest and Scholar, Catholic and Hindu: A Love Story.

He is currently President of the Catholic Theological Society of America. In July 2010 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy and has served as a Professorial Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University. His most recent honorary doctorate was awarded in November 2019 by Regis College, University of Toronto.

He is a Roman Catholic priest and has been a member of the Society of Jesus for 50 years. He serves regularly in a Catholic parish on weekends


 About the Cole Lectures

Philanthropist Edmund W. Cole, president of Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad and treasurer of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust, endowed the annual Cole Lecture Series in 1892 "for the defense and advocacy of the Christian religion." Cole's gift provided for the first sustained lectureship in the history of Vanderbilt University.

The lectures have been delivered by such distinguished scholars as Harry Emerson Fosdick, George Buttrick, Rudolph Bultmann, H. Richard Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Walter Brueggemann, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, James Barr, Gustavo Gutierrez, James Cone, Edward Farley, Don Beisswenger, Gene TeSelle, David Buttrick, Jim Wallis, Lamin Sanneh, Mark Noll, Randall Balmer, James Lawson, John O'Malley, R. Scott Appleby, M. Shawn Copeland and many others.
The Cole Lectures are free and open to the public.

Click here for a complete list of Cole Lectures from 1894-2015.