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Clemens Mendonca

Dynamics of Symbol and Dialogue

Interreligious Education in India

The Relevance of Raimon Panikkar's Intercultural Challenge

Clemens Mendonca:
Dynamics of Symbol and Dialogue. Interreligious Education in India.
The Relevance of Raimon Panikkar's Intercultural Challenge
Münster: Lit, 2002.
(Tübinger Perspektiven zur Pastoraltheologie und Religionspädagogik 13)
xvii, 280 pages
ISBN 3-8258-5565-1

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What is needed is not a discussion at the level of concepts, but an experience at the level of symbols.
The attempt to promote interreligious consensus ignores the causes that are the reasons for the conflicts between religions. It is easy to dialogue on points on which all agree. But it may not be very transformative.

Even if we do not accept Samuel Huntington's thesis on the »clash of civilizations«, religions in the world today are in conflict. Fundamentalist groups in every religion are very active and aggressive. The tensions between the Hindus and the minorities, specially the Muslims, are increasing in India. In such a situation interreligious dialogue and education for it seem necessary and urgent. Mendonca finds in the writings of Raimon Panikkar both inspiration and a model for such a project. So after briefly summarizing the dialogical vision of Panikkar, she examines the symbolic and diabolic forces operative in Indian society today and then proposes a practical way of promoting interreligious education. It is a welcome and timely proposal.

Mendonca starts with a very rapid analysis of the situation of the world today in terms of the deteriorating relationships of the humans with the earth, among themselves and with the Absolute. Then she gives Panikkar's worldview. The world, the humans and the Ultimate Mystery/God are interrelated and inter-penetrating. Reality is cosmotheandric. This depth of being is manifested symbolically in the world, experienced and expressed by the humans. Their experience is structured by mythos. Logos facilitates the expression. This basic openness of the humans towards the world and the Absolute is faith, which finds expression in a pluralism of beliefs depending upon a multiplicity of situations and languages. This pluralism however is not chaotic and invites us to dialogue, thanks to the basic unity of faith. Dialogue at the level of logos is dialectical. At the level of mythos it is dialogical, leading to cosmotheandric communion. According to Panikkar therefore reality is Trinitarian and symbolic calling for dialogue so that communion may be lived and experienced.

Armed with and inspired by this vision Mendonca goes on to analyze in detail the Indian situation. First she exposes the ›diabolic‹ forces that are operative in the world. This is done with reference to the ecological destruction of the earth, the increasing division and fragmentation among the humans and the political abuse of religion. At every stage some general reflection is followed by specific references to the Indian situation. The nuclear arms race; the pollution of air, water, soil and sound; megaprojects that destroy nature and displace the humans, deforestation and endangering wild life; the social oppression of the poor, the Dalits and women; the aggressions of Hindutva are referred to. Then she points to the ›symbolic‹ forces that seek to counter the ›diabolic‹ ones. Here she refers to the various socio-political movements that seek to address ecological, social and religious issues. This offers her an occasion to speak of intrareligious and interreligious dialogue.

The third chapter suggests ways of practicing interreligious education in India. What is needed is not a discussion at the level of concepts, but an experience at the level of symbols. This can be done through the Yoga of awareness. The praxis of this yoga starts with a point of common concern and proceeds with an analysis of the situation, reflection, dialogue between the different religious traditions, search for conviction and promoting awareness through meditation. Awareness leads to the experience of cosmotheandric communion. In keeping with the three-fold analysis presented in the second part, exercises are offered around three basic symbols: breath for ecosophical issues, bread for human issues and dharma for religious issues. These three practices are linked to Karma, Bhakti and Jñåna yogas respectively, leading to the practice of nishkåma karma, the experience of communion and the quest for the Kingdom of God. This whole praxis is then illustrated with reference to a social project in Pune called Maher or »Mother's home«. In the Epilogue Mendonca refers to the role of symbols in religious education as explained by a number of German authors.

As one can see from this brief, inadequate summary, the focus of the book is praxis. It is of immediate relevance to the problems of India. It seeks to be interreligious. It is a welcome effort to apply Panikkar's insights to an Indian spiritual praxis. The exposition is very clear. The end-notes are quite elaborate and provide further information and reflection. The bibliography will be useful. An index would have been helpful. Clemens Mendonca deserves our congratulations for an excellent work that shows us a new way of dialogical dialogue focused on actual problems and leading to socio-political transformation and experience of communion. No wonder then that the University of Tübingen awarded him the prize for the best dissertation in 2001. A Preface on »Religion, Relevance and Interreligious Education« by Francis D'Sa, serves as a good introduction to the book.

In an effort to provide a common ground for dialogue Panikkar's vision has been reduced to a philosophy to which all religions are expected to subscribe. It becomes a »pre-understanding« or transcendental condition for dialogue. I wonder whether the different believers would accept this, rather rational, »pre-understanding« which points to a ›formal‹ (categorical?) unity ignoring the real differences. Secondly the attempt to promote interreligious consensus ignores the causes that are the reasons for the conflicts between religions. It is easy to dialogue on points on which all agree. But it may not be very transformative. Apart from a few brief references in chapter three, the religions are carefully kept out of the picture. Maybe the reason is that Mendonca is focusing on the context and on the method of interreligious education. The tensions would surface when we start practicing it. Perhaps the common praxis will enable us to overcome the differences and tensions.

Michael Amaladoss

polylog: Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 4 (2003).
Online: http://lit.polylog.org/4/smcam-en.htm
ISSN 1616-2943
external linkSatya Nilayam. Chennai Journal for Intercultural Philosophy 3 (2003), 126-130.
Author: Michael Amaladoss, Chennai (India)
© 2003 Author & polylog e.V.
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