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Synthesizing the Vedanta

The Theology of Pierre Johanns S. J.


Sean Doyle

Fr Pierre Johanns is a key figure in the history of Christian intellectual engagement with Hindu philosophy. He was the most articulate figure in a group of Belgian Jesuits in Calcutta who sought to develop the theological project initiated by Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, a convert to Catholicism whose theology conveyed a positive appreciation of aspects of Hindu advaitic philosophy. Johanns began to publish a steady stream of articles in the monthly Light of the East that analysed pertinent features of Vedantic thought from the perspective of his neo-Thomistic presuppositions. Johanns engaged in a thorough explication and analysis of the thinking of the Hindu teachers Sankara, Ramanuja, and Vallabha. He attempted to fashion a creative synthesis of their views, constructing a new, holistic metaphysic from the raw material of their respective philosophical theologies.
This book examines the theological writings of Pierre Johanns by situating him within his historical context, by discussing how Johanns interacted with Vedantic philosophy, and by assessing the success of his project.


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Introduction 11


Introduction Research topic Synthesizing the Vednnta: the theology of Pierre Johanns S.J. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was an intriguing development that took place within the Roman Catholic Church in regard to a Christian rapprochement with Hinduism.1 A leading Bengali intellectual and patriot Brahmabnndhab Upndhyny (1861–1907), a convert to Catholicism, began to formulate an Indian Christian theology that conveyed a positive appreciation of aspects of Hindu advaitic philosophy.2 Upon his early tragic death, a group of Belgian Jesuits in Calcutta sought to develop the project initiated by Upndhyny. In 1922 the Jesuits Pierre Johanns (1882–1955) and 1 ‘Hinduism’ to indicate a family of religions is contentious. See Julius Lipner, Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, New York: Routledge, pp. 5– 21 for discussion on this issue. 2 See Chapter Two for more information on Brahmabnndhab Upndhyny. Francis X. Clooney has argued persuasively that the Vednnta contains both philosophical and theological dimensions. See Clooney, ‘Binding the Text: Vednnta as Philosophy and Commentary’, Texts in Context: Traditional Hermeneutics in South Asia, ed. J. Timm, Albany: State University of New York, 1991, pp. 47–68. The Vednntins are exegetes of sacred scriptures as much as they are theoretical philosophers. One cannot ignore either facet of their identity without misrepresenting the character of the Vednnta. Thomism similarly contains both philosophical and theological components, since it wrestles with biblical texts as well as Aristotelian metaphysics. However, since Johanns usually focused on the philosophical dimensions when explaining the Vednntic systems,...

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