By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
At 1 p.m., Dr. Thatamanil, a professor of theology and world religions at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, will give a presentation titled “Religious Diversity: Problem or Promise”
He will speak at 2:30 p.m. on the topic “Are Religions Paths Up the Same Mountain? Christian Approaches to Religious Diversity.”
Then at 7 p.m. Thatamanil will have a discussion with Oklahoma City interfaith leaders Sabi Singh from the Sikh community and Kris Ladusau from the Buddhist Oklahoma Dharma Center. The topic will be “A Conversation on Religious Neighbors.”
The three presentations are free to the public. They will be held in the Bishop W. Angie Smith Chapel on N.W. 23rd Street between Blackwelder and Kentucky avenues.
A native of southern India, Thatamanil is considered a leader in building mutual respect among people of different faiths. His research specializes in theologies of religious pluralism with special emphasis on Hindu-Christian dialogue and Buddhist-Christian dialogue.
His courses have covered such topics as the theology of Paul Tillich, process theology, and Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality. Prior to his current appointment, Thatamanil taught at Boston University, Millsaps College and Vanderbilt Divinity School.
A frequent lecturer nationally and internationally, Thatamanil blogs periodically for The Huffington Post and other online publications. He has published editorials in The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.
On the topic of how Christians in particular have taken up questions about the meaning of religious diversity Thatamanil has stated, “Perhaps the oldest way that Christians have struggled with questions about religious diversity is to ask, ‘Can persons find salvation outside of the church or can we be saved by other means outside of faith in Jesus Christ, or is salvation found in the Christian religions alone?’”
Thatamanil points out that contemporary conversation regarding faith often has the word “religion” in it.
“I think we can say with some confidence that neither Jesus nor any New Testament author, nor perhaps even any person in the first 1600 years of Christian tradition had any conception of religion that resembles our own,” he said.
“I think this imposing of the category of religion is distorting our conversation with other traditions,” Thatamanil continued. “It’s distorting our capacity to even recognize the internal diversity within our own tradition.
“The idea that you can only be one religion at a time, that each religion only has only one religious aim – these ideas, I think, are open to interrogation.”
Thatamanil said, “I want to diagnose the problem that we won’t get very far in the conversation if we assume that the category of religion is valid for all of these religious traditions.”
Thatamanil asks, “Where are the boundaries between religions? Are religions the sort of things that have boundaries? These are the kinds of questions we have to start asking ourselves, especially in an age when the old distinction between religion and politics, religion and economics are becoming highly fluid.”
“When we think of these more fluid categories I think we will find better options,” he added.
The annual Willson Lectures are provided by an endowment from James M. and Mavis Willson of Floydada, Texas. The lectures are directed to students interested in religion and society.
Since 1953 their gift to OCU has brought speakers of international stature in the areas of religion, science, Christian theology and ethics, church history, biblical studies and liturgical studies.
In recent years they have included such eminent scholars as Amy-Jill Levine, J. Philip Newell, Michelle Gonzalez Moldanado, and Joerg Rieger.
For more information call 405-208-5484 or visit okcu.edu/religion.