Professor Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad
BA, MA (Sri Sathya Sai Institute), MA (Oxford), DPhil (Oxford)
As practically every one of our prospective students tell us when they come for an Open Day at Lancaster, thoughtful young people are keenly aware of how Britain is a highly pluralistic society - not only in terms of ethnicity and language, but also in social and ethical beliefs and lifestyles. The study of religion, not only in terms of doctrines and practices, or history and change, but also in terms of the cultural vocabulary which exists even outside explicitly religious contexts, is vital to a greater understanding of this rapidly changing society. Religion has traditionally been taught and studied at Lancaster as a lens through which to understand the complexity of the contemporary world. Practical as well as conceptual consequences flow out of such study. British citizens need to have critical sympathy for those around them, they need to be self-aware of their own changing attitudes, and they need to articulate responses to the urgent challenges facing the world. I believe that the Lancaster approach to the study of religion - which is interdisciplinary, systematic, wide-ranging, undoctrinaire, and comparative - offers a model for the study of religion in Britain that is highly relevant.
My particular interest is to approach a range of conceptual questions, whether theological, philosophical, historical or social scientific, through a study of Indian traditions. Pressing contemporary concerns about social order, the relationship between the public and the private, and the nature and limits of dissent in pluralistic societies, are approached through the history of Western liberalism; and yet they can usefully be illuminated through looking at the ideas and developments of Indian history. It is a recognition of the need for this kind of comparative study that prompted and has sustained my research.