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ISSUE 119 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/3/2006

Rambachan returns

By Tim Rehborg
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 3, 2006

Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion and one of the nation’s leading Hindu scholars, addressed the World Council of Churches (WCC) at their ninth Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

The assembly hosted over 700 representatives from Anglican, Protestant, Orthodox and other branches of Christianity. Rambachan was involved in the conference’s interreligious dialogue and relations.

As one of the 15 representatives from non-Christian religions, Rambachan gave a plenary address to the assembly. He also participated in various workshops, dealing with sessions like “Interreligious Thinking Together” and “Religion and Violence.’

The WCC has a strong interreligious agenda as an ecumenical Christian organization, and Rambachan, as a Hindu with a Western background, brings an informative view to the conference. His experience in dialogue with various world religions in America gives him the experience to relate the Hindu tradition to others of these faiths.

Growing up in the West, Rambachan said, “Caste [system] is not intrinsic to Hinduism.” However, Hinduism in India strongly connects to culture and caste system of class. Specifically, Rambachan addressed the social difficulties connected to the caste system, to explicitly acknowledge “our responsibility as Hindus in the oppression of the Dalits and call for a commitment to work towards the overcoming of caste-based discrimination.”

The Dalits are a group of "untouchables," situated outside of the Hindu caste system. While the work of M.K. Gandhi made the official oppression of Dalits illegal, this impoverished group still faces discrimination, especially from Hindu temples.

Rambachan, generally focusing his interreligious dialogue in learning from other religions and sharing insight from Hinduism, brought the plight of the Dalits to attention in his plenary address. In it, he emphasized the importance of self-reflection of violence in one’s own religion, especially poignant in light of current religious violence around the world.

While issues of violence are present in almost every religion, interreligious dialogue is valuable even between religions that are not in conflict, Rambachan said. Relationships between Hindus and Christians are usually peaceful. However, due to “the issue of conversion and what Hindus consider to be the use of unethical methods to win converts,” conflict has arisen between the two groups.

Rambachan has been invited to participate in a WCC conference on conversion in Rome this May, where issues of conversion methods will be discussed and reviewed.

Interreligious dialogue is not only important for keeping healthy relationships between different groups of people, but is essential in maintaining a growing perception of one’s own faith. Rambachan, through this interreligious dialogue, finds “the inspiration for my small steps in the nature of God who my tradition asks me to recognize and embrace in every face.”

As Rambachan said in his closing plenary address at the conference, this world forces us to “labor together interreligiously so that our world reflects the nourishing and fragrant beauty of God.”

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