Roger Hooker Memorial Lecture held on February 27th 2018

Roger Hooker Memorial Lecture  Tuesday February 27th, 7.45 pm at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. A joint annual event with the Council for Christians and Jews (Birmingham branch)

‘Religion and Belief in Public Life: a Hindu Perspective’: Shaunaka Rsi Das, Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

On a very cold and snowy evening it was good to have a substantial turnout from the Hindu community, and several staunch members of other faiths as well.

The Revd Dr Roger Hooker was an Anglican Christian missionary in India from 1965 – 78. He spent 6 of those years in Varanasi the sacred Hindu city learning Sanskrit and engaging with Hindus. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the Hindu novel. On his return to Britain he lived in Birmingham and later in Smethwick and became the Bishop of Birmingham’s adviser on interfaith relations. He was much in demand as a speaker but was especially well known for his skills in befriending people of all faiths. He co-authored a book with Christopher Lamb called ‘Love the Stranger’ in which he spoke of ‘loitering with intent’ – the intent to befriend whoever passed by. In his final years he undertook a particular study of Judaism and was a member of the Council of Christians and Jews. He died early, in 1999, and this lecture was set up in his memory soon after.

GUEST SPEAKER: Shaunaka Rsi Das has been Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies since it opened in 1997. Shaunaka was born in the Republic of Ireland and was ordained as a Hindu priest in the Vaishnava tradition in 1982. He is the Hindu Chaplain to Oxford University, a lecturer and broadcaster. In 2013 he became a member of the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life.

Shaunaka spoke about the different approach to public life among the Dharmic faiths and Hinduism in particular, compared with the Abrahamic faiths, and the tendency for public bodies to assume the Abrahamic perspective. He referred to his personal history, having come from a Roman Catholic background in Ireland, but finding Hinduism‘s emphasis on lived experience rather than belief in certain doctrines, deeply liberating.  However, this difference of emphasis can make for difficulties when it comes to policy making for public life – where it is important to involve people of all faiths equally but not easy when the underlying philosophies are so different. Roger Hooker made a uniquely valuable contribution to bridging the gap between Christianity and Hinduism. Hinduism’s inclusivity can offer much to public life but there are many different views within the Hindu ‘community’.

By Ruth Tetlow – 6th April 2018

Senior Adviser and Trustee , Birmingham Council of Faiths