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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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Section Three


Chapter Six Theological evaluation of Johanns Introduction This final chapter evaluates Johanns by analyzing how successfully he carried out his defined objectives, based upon the key method- ological components which framed his project of synthesizing the Vednnta. Johanns is best assessed by taking into consideration the ideals and the standards that he set for himself and also by evaluating him within his historical context. By situating him within his scholarly and theological milieu, one can avoid an unbalanced and potentially unfair criticism based solely upon current concerns and theological emphases. While modern theologians in India have become progressivly more sensitive to issues of social and gender equality and have sought to stand against the hegemony of the priv- eledged classes, these concerns were not as prominent in the time period of Upndhyny and Johanns. For the sake of evaluating Johanns against what may be expected of him as a theologian of his generation, the analysis will concentrate upon the accuracy and the quality of the project of Johanns, rather than criticizing him for not addressing concerns that arose some time afterwards. These more modern concerns have already been documented and presented in an informed manner by other scholars.1 This chapter contains a number of separate discussions. First, the synthesis of Johanns is presented in as concise a manner as possibile, in order to provide a helpful summation of the progressive 1 See, for example, A Reader in Dalit Theology, ed. A.P. Nirmal, Madras: Gurukal, 1992; Indigenous People, Dalits: Dalit Issues...

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