Robert Minor, professor emeritus in Kansas University’s religious studies department, 1300 Oread Ave:
People examine other religions with a variety of goals. That was true of my Kansas University students.
Though the purpose of the academic study of religions is to understand human beings who share our ways of seeing things as well as those who don’t, understanding isn’t a human end. We understand in order to act upon it.
Understanding promotes empathy, not necessarily agreement. Some understand the religions of others to be better equipped to convert them to their own.
Some seek understanding because they want to know the answers that some of the brightest — and, possibly, not so brightest — minds have given to the bigger questions that haunt us. They’re hoping other answers might suit them better than their own.
Some turn to other religions to escape their own. Rather than reconciling their personal hurts and doubts in their Western heritage, for example, they might flee East the way a person does who thinks that changing one’s residence is an easier way to solve problems that are quite personal, but who actually just moves them along with the furniture.
Some seem to continue the fights they have with the religion of their upbringing with every religion. Some rejecters just want to find out what it is that causes religious people to act the strange way they do.
What has fascinated me about studying the variety of other religions is that I find human beings asking questions I’ve never thought of about the same reality I experience. Because they come out of cultures other than my own, they have new questions about what I’ve taken for granted.
And I suspect that the amount of openness I have to listening to such new questions is proportional to the value I places on being challenged by insights from all the people I meet.
— Send e-mail to Robert Minor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. Peter Luckey, senior pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.:
If you wish to see, hear and smell the religions of the world, go to India.
On my very first night there, I walked through the streets of Mumbai. There, coming toward me, I witnessed a joyous crowd carrying something on their shoulders. Even in the dark, because of the forest of lit candles at the base, I could make it out: an elephant headed statue. The occasion was the Hindu festival Diwali, and the statue the beloved Hindu god Ganesh.
In India, religion is public, colorful, aromatic, tactile and noisy.
During my stay at a Christian retreat Center, I awoke each morning to the sounds of prayer from the local Hindu Temple. I preached in Chennai where my words competed with the Imam’s call to prayer wafting through the church windows. I saw Hindus offering up their petitions to the Blessed Mother.
No one faith holds a monopoly on truth. All great religions offer a means of accessing the Sacred.
My experience in India prompted me to probe more deeply into my own tradition. To ask, “What stories shape my life? What practices draw me closer to God?”
A Christian seeker asked the Dalai Lama whether she should become a Buddhist. His response? “No, become more deeply Christian. Live more deeply into your own tradition.”
This is the invitation I experienced seeing Ganesh surrounded by all those lit candles on the streets of Mumbai. My mind was drawn back to Kansas. I thought of that moment on Christmas Eve when we light our candles and proclaim the coming of the Light into the world.
— Send e-mail to Peter Luckey at email@example.com.