During my time at the Martin Marty Center I will be laying the groundwork for a new study of the Hindu tradition of Advaita, or non-dualist, Vedanta. In this project, I propose to establish the broad contours of an Advaita "theology of mission" from a close study of the articulated visions of several contemporary Advaita organizations in India and North America. This research will complement a growing literature on the dynamics of continuity and creative transformation in Advaita tradition. As a self-reflective exercise in comparative theology, it will also add insight to the theory, practice and changing understandings of Christian mission.
My proposed project sets out, first of all, to consolidate previous scholarship-my own and others'-on several key moments in the development of Advaita pedagogical practices and self-understanding in order to establish a broad background for my study. Then, informed by recent historical studies in Christian missiology, I will endeavour to discern a distinctively Advaita approach to questions of mission, focusing particularly on the emergence of the Chinmaya Mission and other closely related movements in the modern era. My methodology will consist of a close study of primary and secondary sources related to these movements, read through the lens of "mission" and "missionary activity" as deliberately problematic interpretive categories, subject to continual reformulation in light of evidence from the texts. Though this will be a primarily textual inquiry, particularly in its early stages, my larger project will also include materials generated from several research trips to Chinmaya Mission and other VedÇnta centres in North America and India, which serve to contextualize my reading and to widen the range of primary source documents to include brochures, chapbooks and other media.
I can imagine few places better suited to initiate this new project than the Martin Marty Center. Not only do I relish the opportunity to engage in dialogue and collaboration with a unique constellation of top-notch colleagues around questions of religion, public life and globalization, but I am also particularly grateful that I will be doing so in a place that so explicitly values interdisciplinary approaches to these questions. As a theologian working with the many of the methodological tools of religious studies and ethnology, I will have much to gain from the rich resources of the Center and the Divinity School. I look forward to contributing to and learning from our shared conversations.