The book is an attempt to investigate the ‘response of the Bhakti Tradition of Alvars to religious pluralism and to assess its relevance for a contemporary Christian theology of religions from a ‘life sustaining pluralistic perspective’
The author has extensively consultated all the possible resources at his disposal and has made a scholarly analysis of the subject and concludes. Since Alvars lived in a context of religious mobility. a contemporary Christian Theology of religions can derive substantial insights from the Bhakti Tradition of Alvars.
Dr. S. Robertson has obtained his Theological Degrees from the Senate of Serampore College (University): Batchelor of Theology (B. Th.), 1986, Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.), 1991, Master of Theology (M.Th. Religions), 1994 and Doctor of Theology (D. Th. Religions) 2003. Besides, he holds Degrees of B.A. History and M.A. Public Administration from the Madras University and M.A. Sanskrit from the Mysore Open University.
Prior to his Doctoral Research, he was teaching at Southern Asia Christian College, Chennai for five years. He is currently teaching at Serampore College, Serampore, Hooghly District, West Bengal.
In addition to this book, he has published scholarly articles in leading Journals.
The book in its original form is the dissertation submitted to the Senate of Serampore College towards the D. Th degree and published with written permission. The candidate is responsible for the title, contents and opinions expressed in it.
The original title of the dissertation is “response to religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of alvars and its relevance for a contemporary christian theology of religions”.
The title of the present book, ‘Bhakti Tradition of Valsnava Alvars and Theology of Religions’ is the condensed form of my original research “Response to Religious Pluralism in the Bhakti Tradition of Alvars and its Relevance for a Contemporary Christian Theology of Religions”.
Statement of the Problem-The book is an attempt to investigate the response of the Bhakti Tradition of Alvars to religious pluralism and to assess its relevance for a contemporary Christian theology of religions from a ‘life sustaining pluralistic perspective’.
The response of the Alvars to people of other faiths does not fall under a simple pattern. As the Alvars belonged to Vaisnavism, which is one of the major streams of Hinduism, it is essential to determine their approach to people of other faiths and examine whether they are relevant for the present Indian context.
Christian theology of religions has often attempted to make an objective study of other religious traditions and understand people of other faiths from diverse perspectives. As plurality of religion and ideology have become the accepted phenomena of the present time, it is inevitable for Christian theology of religions to present a contemporary relevant theology of religions.
By and large, religions are destined for the enhancement of human life and behavior. So also, the entire human activity around the globe, including all sciences, is to promote better life situation for humanity. Thus life and religion are integrated and hence require to be considered together. Therefore, any contemporary theology of religions should be life centered. It needs to endeavor to promote life in all its fullness. Hence, a life sustaining pluralist perspective may be a relevant Christian theology of religions for the contemporary situation.
The meaning of the term religion does not include all forms of religiosity and ideology in its scope. Each religion and ideology is unique and true in its own context. Their contributions cannot be ignored in any attempt, which assures better possibilities for human life. Therefore, the expression ‘faith traditions’ is used to include all such religions and ideologies under one banner.
Each religion may have its own theology with regard to its understanding of the other and the way in which it relates with the other. The Christian theology of religions is committed to re-evaluate the Christian responses to people of other faith traditions from time to time and to propose new interpretations of Christian faith appropriate to the context.
Alvars-The Alvars are the twelve Vaisnava saints of south India who flourished between sixth and ninth centuries or the Christian era. Alvars is a Tamil word, which is interpreted as one who is immersed in God love, immersed in the love of God, God Intoxicated, one who is plunged in God-enjoyment or a diver in divinity, one who has gone deep in the knowledge of God and one who is immersed in the contemplation of him, They are also called the Dravida devotees or saints.
The band of twelve Alvars included saints from different caste groups. One of them was a woman. They were wandering saints who eulogized Lord Visnu through their spontaneous songs. Their songs are collected by Acarya Nathamuni and the collection is called Nalayira Divya Prabandham or the Book of the Divine Four Thousand Hymns or Nmayiram in snort. These hymns are divided into four sections. Hymns 1-947 are called Mudalayiram, 948-2081 Periyatirumoli, 2082-2898 Iyarpa and 2899-4000 Tiruvayrnoli.
Bhakti-The word bhakti is derived from the Sanskrit root bhaj. It is used here in the sense of loving adoration or devotion to a personal god. It can be also used in the sense of Upasana of the Upantsads, i.e., the form of continuous meditation on the Supreme Soul. While, bhakti is reserved only for the three upper orders 15 of the society, prapatti or self-surrender is open to all segments of people.
The Alvars represent a specific phase of Vaisnavism in Tamil Nadu. The form of devotion that they practiced is called prapatti or self-surrender; which is different from the general pattern of bhakti, which is more technical in nature and- confined to the caste rules. Prapatti is simple and open to all classes of people. It can be practiced by all orders, including the Sudras
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