FRIDAY REVIEW

Building cultural bridges

SELINE AUGUSTINE

Daniel Jeyaraj.

Daniel Jeyaraj.  

"Do not despise anyone just because he/she is different," urges Professor Daniel Jeyaraj who teaches at Andover Newton Theology School near Boston in Massachusetts. This is important because the focus is on how and what the North American students can learn from the insights and experiences of non-western Christians in Asia, Africa and South America.

Every faith can be translated or incorporated into an existing cultural frame of thought. The interaction produces new identities. So spoke Daniel Jeyaraj on the "Emergence of Tamil Christian Identity" at the recent RZIM meet in Chennai.

Jeyaraj, Professor of World Christianity, has to his credit three doctorates. He is also an ordained pastor from the Tirunelveli Diocese, Church of South India. Jeyaraj is a native of Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu. He has specialised on the life and work of B. Ziegenbalg (1682-1719), the first German scholar to come to Tarangambadi on the Coromandal Coast. Ziegenbalg set up the first free public schools for ordinary Tamil children, the first printing press (1712), and wrote on Tamil society, culture and religions.

Jeyaraj earned his first Ph.D. for his dissertation on intercultural encounters between Germans and Tamils in 18th century Tamil Nadu. A study of the history of religions with the emphasis on Saivism, Vaishnavism and popular village religions, fetched him his second doctorate. His third doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Mumbai, contains hermeneutical and text-critical study of various palm leaf manuscripts on Ulaga neethi and its German translation (1708). All the three theses were written in German.

Jeyaraj's research career began with his first book entitled ``Triumph over Dowry" (1991). He has also edited two books which highlight a few aspects of the early Indo-German interaction in Tamil Nadu.

Professor Jeyaraj is chief editor of the biannual academic English periodical Dharma Deepika: a South Asian Journal of Missiological Research. Jeyaraj was invited to teach World Christianity in Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S. from 2001 to 2003. Before that he taught at Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute in Chennai.

Since 2003 he has been teaching at Andover Newton Theological School. Currently, his research is aimed at building useful multi-way bridges between western people and the non-western.

Professor Jeyaraj has dedicated his scholarship to recover details on Tamil culture and society from European archives and libraries. He has discovered several palm leaf manuscripts which Ziegenbalg sent from Tranquebar to Europe.

One of these palm leaf texts is the Dharma Vazhi with 397 principles, written in 1709 in Tarangambadi.

Another palm leaf manuscript contains the earliest songs which Christians sang (1709-1714) in Tranquebar.

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