By IJ Saldanha Shet
Mangalore, Dec 25, 2012: Mangaloreans are well known to have a special intellectual competence to thoroughly adapt to multi-cultures, knowledge and religion with ease and completeness at multi levels. A very learned and accomplished personality, a Global Mangalorean, Joseph Prabhu, alias J B Prabhu, who never prefixes Dr or Prof nor attaches to his name his string of PhD’s,degrees and honours, a very travelled and well read and accomplished world citizen, a Mangalore boy at heart, who has loved the cosmopolitan traditions of his native town on the shores of the Arabian Sea battered by currents from many parts of the Globe enriching it over many centuries of civilization. Through his many achievements has spread the spirit of peace, harmony and understanding globally doing his origins, roots and his community proud.
Early Days & Education:
Joseph Prabhu, this great scholar was born in Bijey (off MG Road as it is now known) in Mangalore in March 1946 to John Peris and Nellie Peris (nee’Lobo) both scholarly Konkani Catholic families. His father an Official in the Audits&Accounts Service young Joseph went with them to Belgaum, Jalna and Calcutta(now Kolkota) where he did his schooling. Then to College at St Stephen’s Delhi and the reputed Delhi school of Economics were he was an earnest student greats like Amartya Sen and Manmohan Singh. He then chose Munich and Heidelberg in Germany and then Cambridge in 1973 for his Tripos. Then he moved to the US and gained a PhD in ’Hegel’s Philosophy’ from Boston University LA where he has since lived. JB as he is popularly referred to has written many books and articles and published many papers in top academic gatherings, a full list can be seen on the Internet.
"Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you; you must acquire it.", Let us look at JB’s Scholarly work as would be told by J: I have been teaching at CSULA since 1978, also in that time been a visiting professor at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, Harvard, Occidental College, Boston University and Universities in India and Germany. My interests broadly span metaphysics and ethics to comparative religion and social and political theory. In 2012, I worked on three books: Liberating Gandhi: Community, Empire and a Culture of Peace, Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspective and Hegel, India and the Dark Face of Modernity.
Bringing philosophical and spiritual perspectives to bear on ethical and political issues interests me, my approach is interdisciplinary and cross-cultural. I co-edited the journal ReVision, a quarterly dealing with issues of philosophy, spirituality and psychology, and am active in peace, human rights and inter-religious movements, local, national and international. I have been a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University and at the Martin Marty Center of the University of Chicago.
In terms of professional responsibilities, I was the past President of the Society of Asian and Comparative Philosophy (2008-2010) Member, Board of Trustees, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the Program Chair for the Melbourne Parliament, 2009, the Program Chair of the Philosophy of Religion section of the American Academy of Religion, and the local (Los Angeles) co-Chair of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (SSCPWR).
Teaching & Research Interests:
His teaching at CSULA, for thirty-five years, a philosophy course concentrating on human values and views about reality and knowledge. At a more advanced level courses on Indian/Asian philosophy, 19 and 20Century European philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and social and political theory. His goals in teaching are threefold: 1. to do philosophy in the classroom, so that students learn how to think for themselves, 2. to provide students with both worldviews and detailed arguments, so that they are exposed to the excitement and rigor of the subject, and 3. to show the practical relevance of such thinking to their personal lives and the world at large. As a philosopher I try to get myself and my students to believe what is true, to do what is right, and to love what is beautiful.I was for my efforts awarded the Outstanding Professor Award of CSULA, 2004-2005. Research: J B ’s research interests are closely tied up with teaching and publications. In addition to the three projects mentioned above, he is also compiling a book, based on my lectures, tentatively labeled "Globalization and the Encounter of Religions", dealing with religions in their socio-cultural contexts. Having been trained in three disciplines (philosophy, religion and economics) and three cultures (Indian, German and North American), a broad perspective emerges.
Projecting a Guru & Mentor:
One example that perhaps brings out JB’s personality is his association with a towering academic thinker and philosopher, shows the depth of his values, direction and principles. Put together from JB’s own writing; gauges the depth and commitment of this Mangalorean origin scholar and laureate. A better insight for the reader may emerge from this closer look at one of J B Prabhu’s leading lights whom he may have considered as a Guru and on whom he has written volumes; this teacher too has an Indian connection: Raimon Panikkar, known in the context of Hindu-Christian Studies as a teacher, scholar, mentor, or friend, died at his home in Tavertet, near Barcelona, on August 26, 2010. He was ninety-one and had been in poor health for some time, but he did live to see the day when his Gifford Lectures, originally delivered in Edinburgh in 1989, and he produced some nineteen different versions of parts of the texts, finally saw the light of day, as "The Rhythm of Being" (Orbis Books).
He was born the son of an Indian Hindu father and a Spanish Catholic mother on November 3, 1918. He received a conventional Catholic education at a Jesuit high school in Barcelona before launching on his university studies in the natural sciences, philosophy, and theology, first in Barcelona and then in Madrid. When World War II started in 1939, Panikkar returned to Spain and completed the first of his three doctorates, this one in philosophy, at the University of Madrid in 1946. In late 1954 when he was already aged 36, Panikkar visited India, the land of his father, for the first time. It proved to be a watershed, a decisive reorientation of his interests and of his theology.
Panikkar taught and lived in the United States from 1966-1987 and was known to generations of students here and around the world through both his lectures and his many books. What they heard and read were the arresting reflections of a multi-dimensional person, simultaneously a philosopher, theologian, mystic, priest and poet. A formidable scholar with doctorates in philosophy, theology, and chemistry and an acquaintance with the worlds of learning and religious reflection in more than a dozen languages. At heart he was a mystic and a contemplative, who chose at the end of his academic career in 1987 to live in the small mountain village of Tavertet (population 75) in a remote part of the Pyrenees north of Barcelona, he was not easily accessible. He once wrote, “Writing, to me, is meditation—that is medicine—and also order for this world. Writing, to me, is intellectual life and that in turn is spiritual existence. It is not only a matter of living but also of letting life be—this life, offered to us as a gift.
One of Panikkar’s many striking sentences looking back on his life’s journey asserts: “I left Europe (for India) as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be a Christian.” A wealth of meaning lies in that assertion. Panikkar, having grown up and having been trained in a traditional Catholic and neo-Thomist environment, had a profound knowledge of, and respect for that tradition. He was also invited to take part in the Synod of Rome and the Second Vatican Council.
"The Unknown Christ of Hinduism", which Panikkar originally presented as a doctoral thesis to the Lateran University in Rome in 1961, based as it was on a close textual comparison between Thomas Aquinas and Sankara’s interpretation of a canonical Hindu scripture, the Brahma-Sutras. Christ and his teaching are not, so Panikkar argues, the monopoly or exclusive property of Christianity seen as a historical religion. Christ vastly transcends Christianity. Panikkar calls the name “Christ” the “Supername,” in line with St. Paul’s “name above every name” (Phil 2:9), because it is a name that can and must assume other names, like Rama or Krishna or Ishvara. Far from diluting or in any way watering down core Christian beliefs and practices, in addition to fostering inter-religious understanding and harmony, this provided an indispensable medium for deepening the Christian faith.
Such dialogue provides an insight and entry point into other, names and manifestations of Christ. This was particularly important for Panikkar because together with other Asian theologians he saw how historical Christianity had attempted, especially during its colonial periods, to convert Christ into an imperial God, with a license to conquer and triumph over other Gods. This for Panikkar is the challenge of the post-colonial period inaugurated in the mid-to-late twentieth century and continuing into our present and the future. He was as Leonard Swidler, the Chair of Catholic Thought at Temple University, called him, “the apostle of inter-faith dialogue and inter-cultural understanding.” In later life, his persona managed to combine the dignity of a sage, the profundity of a scholar, the depth of a contemplative, and the warmth and charm of a friend in his effervescent personality. Prof Panikkar authored more than 40 books and 900 articles. His complete works are published in Italian. His 1989 Gifford Lectures were published in English by Orbis in 2009 under the title "The Rhythm of Being." Joseph Prabhu’s orientation, scholarship and qualities come to the fore through this his association with a lofty sage like person and thinker.
A model for academic aspirations, Joseph Prabhu can be projected as, "an excellent teacher who makes a lasting impression on students; an intellectual and widely recognized scholar; and a human who is a solid citizen of the university and the world." What pride these true Mangaloreans who are proud in their genuine roots should cause the present and future generations and inspire in them a true value of the intrinsic worth to motivate to greater heights every one connected with this great land called Canara, India.