Harold G. Coward holds an M.A degree in Psychology from the University of Alberta and a Ph. D. degree in Indian Philosophy and Religion from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He has been a visiting research scholar at Banaras Hindu University and at the Centre for Advanced Study in Theoretical Psychology, University of Alberta. He is currently Director, the Calgary Institute for the Humanities, and Professor and Head of the Department of Religious studies, the University of Calgary.
Dr Coward is the author of Bhartrhari (Twayne, 1976) and editor of Revelation in Indian Thought (Dharma, 1977), Mystics and Scholars (WLU Press, 1977), "Language" in Indian Philosophy and Religion (WLU Press, 1978), Religion and Ethnicity (WLU Press, 1978), Humanities in the Present Day (WLU Press, 1979, and The Spotha Theory of Language (Motilal Banarsidass, 1980). He is currently editing the Grammarian Volume of The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies.
Religious experience has been defined as the quest for ultimate reality. In pursuing this quest, religions often seem to have an inherent drive to claims of uniqueness and universality. Many religions exhibit an inner tendency to claim to be the true religion, to offer the true revelation, to offer the true revelation as the true way of salvation or release. It appears to be self-contradictory for such a religion to accept any other expression of ultimate reality than its own. Yet what characterizes today's world is religious pluralism. It is certainly true that the world has always been religiously plural. But the breaking of cultural, racial, linguistic and geographic boundaries a truly world community. Today the West is no longer shut up in itself. It can no longer regard itself simply as the centre of the history of this world and as the centre of culture with a religion that is the obvious and indeed the sole way of worship. I am sure that the same thing is true for the East. Today everyone is the next-door neighbour and spiritual neighbour of everyone else.
In Canada it is the case in almost all our cities that sometime during the year a special day is set aside for a kind of cultural fair. Music, dance, handicrafts and food from all the cultures are offered by the members of the ethnic communities, now Canadian citizens. In addition to these 'at home' experiences, we are all travelling more and having the existential experience of each other's cultures. The same thing is happening with religions. I don't have to come to India to encounter Hindus. In Calgary there is a large Hindu community, two Jodo Shinsu Buddhist congregations, Zen and Tibetan Buddhist groups, three Islamic mosques and five jewish synagofues – to say nothing of the many so-called New Religions, T.M., Hare Krishna, etc. Today every religion, like every culture, is an existential possibility offered to every person. Alien religions have become part of everyday life and we experience them as a challenge to the truth claims of our own faith. While this existential pluralism may not be as much of a new thing for India as it is for the West, I suggest that the coming of secularism, technology and foreign ideologies of various kinds will rapidly face India's traditional culture and religion with similar challenges.
The aim of these lectures is to examine the way each religion has reacted and is reacting to the challenge of pluralism. The hope is that in undertaking such a study we will better understand each other's religion, and learn from one another of the true dimensions of spiritual life is a pluralistic world.
I wish to thank Professor R.Balasubramanian and the members of the Dr S.Radhakrishnan Institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy for extending to me the invitation to deliver this Special Lecture Series. The topic I have chosen "religious Pluralism and the World Religions" is, I feel, very close to the life and spirit of Dr S. Radhakrishnan. He was a brilliant and tireless ambassador from Hinduism to the other world religions. It would not be the much to say that the driving spirit behind Dr Radhakrishnan's scholarship was to make Indian Philosophy and Religion understandable and relevant in the pluralism of this modern world. Thus, it is with respect, admiration and humility that I attempt to share in his mission through the offering of this Special Lecture Series.
I must acknowledge the assistance of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada in providing for my travel expenses so that I could deliver these lectures in Madras.
Finally, I express my thanks to Dr V.K.S.N. Raghavan and Dr R. Gopalakrishnan for reading the proofs. I am thankful to Mr John Allen Grimes who not only helped in proof reading, but also in the preparation of index.
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