Scholar Fridays is a weekly series on Bearings Online where we feature 2017-18 Resident Scholars. Susan Sink interviewed Reid Locklin, who spent the spring semester at the Collegeville Institute as a Resident Scholar. Locklin is Associate Professor at Saint Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. During his residency, he worked on his project titled “Advaita Mission, Christian Mission.” To view previous Scholar Friday interviews, click here.
Tell us about your project, “Advaita Mission, Christian Mission.” Your work seems to be not just ecumenical but interfaith, looking at Hindu spirituality and texts and Christianity.
My project is fairly straightforward at one level. In the 19th and 20th century, a number of missionary movements arose in relation to the non-dualist Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedānta. My project involves looking at the theologies of these movements, tracing their histories and then thinking about what they might mean for Christian reflection on our own missionary theologies. (Watch a video of his final Resident Scholar presentation here.)
The project aspires to be interfaith, I suppose, but it is still a very Christian project: I am a Christian theologian who studies Hindu traditions for the purposes of a renewal of Christian theologies. Some Hindus are skeptical of this kind of Hindu-Christian study, for good historical reasons; others appreciate it. Increasingly, it is becoming truly interfaith — the new editor of the Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies is a Vaishnava Hindu, for example.
When I think of South Asian Christianity, I really think of the evangelical missions there. However, I know there is another tradition, linked to Saint Thomas and the non-canonical (gnostic) Gospel of Thomas. Does your work have anything to do with that tradition?
I don’t work directly with any of the Thomas traditions in the work, except through one very important Mar Thoma theologian and missiologist named M. M. Thomas. It’s an important connection, however, because the Thomas traditions themselves adopted a very different attitude to missionary activity than did the Catholic and Protestant traditions that arrived with the colonial powers. My fellow Resident Scholar Jaisy Joseph is Syro-Malabar, one of the contemporary Thomas traditions, so I enjoyed getting her response to my work in comparative theology.
I have been graced to live and work with a number of South Asian theologians from both the Thomas traditions and indigenized Catholic and Protestant traditions over the years. I recently edited a collection of writings on Tamil Catholicism by the influential ethnographer Selva J. Raj.
Did you have any ecumenical moments while here at the Collegeville Institute?
In the Seminars, I was most impressed by the presentations of fellow scholars who also study Catholic traditions while asking very different questions than I do — about the engagement of contemporary Thomism with natural science or the role of post-colonial theory in re-thinking Catholic ecclesiology. And, of course, unexpected connections abound: fellow Canadian Bob Kitchen is an outstanding Reformed pastor and an extraordinary scholar at a time when the academic and church worlds are increasingly separated. And it turns out that, despite the fact that Tom Montgomery Fate and I live in very different academic worlds and are working on very different projects, we both lived at different times on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. And I had another opportunity to chat with the impressive folks at the Benedictine Institute about how the Bosnian genocide has had continuing consequences here and on my own campus at the University of Toronto.
What could be more ecumenical? The discovery of unexpected common ground and difference in new community is what the Collegeville Institute makes possible.
Do you have a book or film to recommend that you’ve seen lately? Doesn’t have to be about work. What have you been reading or gone to see for fun?
I recently finished watching the fourth season of Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D., which is not available on Netflix in Canada. That is actually something of an elegant inclusio: the last time I was a resident scholar, 15 years ago, I was obsessively watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was produced by the same creative team.
I am currently reading two books on Mary of Nazareth: Mother of God by Miri Rubin and Mary by Sarah Jane Boss. I know, pretty nerdy for pleasure reading, but there you have it. Over Christmas, I devoured Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. This is both a terrific read and an important lesson on the grim history of indigenous-settler relations in this country.
If you could have a visit with any non-Western religious/spiritual figure, who would it be? Any time or place. What would you talk about?
Well, I have spent my life studying Shankara, the 8th century Indian teacher and pre-eminent figure in Advaita tradition, but I am not sure that I would like him. I think I would want to meet Sureshvara, who was supposedly a convert from another Hindu tradition and who never quite fit in with the other disciples. As a convert myself, to Catholicism in this case, I think that he and I would have a lot to talk about.
I believe you had a spouse here with you. What was she up to while she was here?
Due to her teaching and other commitments, Jolie was only able to live at the Collegeville Institute for about half of the term. However, she kept herself very busy. She is a classical oboist, and she was able to connect with several members of the Saint John’s community to rehearse and perform. Most notably, she joined the music ministry for the Easter Triduum at the Abbey Church. Also an accomplished potter, she wandered down to the Saint John’s Pottery a few days each week to wash ash and support the work of the studio in other ways. Some days, it seemed like she was accomplishing far more than I was!