Rev. John J. Thatamanil, MDiv, PhD
Professor of Theology & World Religions Director, Insight Project: Theology & Natural World
3041 Broadway, AD 411
New York, NY 10027
212-280-1538 | firstname.lastname@example.org
B.A., Washington University, 1988
M.Div., Magna Cum Laude, Boston University, 1991
Ph.D., Boston University, 2000
John J. Thatamanil teaches a wide variety of courses in the areas of comparative theology, theologies of religious diversity, Hindu-Christian dialogue, the theology of Paul Tillich, theory of religion, process theology, and ecotheology. He is committed to the work of comparative theology—theology that learns from and with a variety of traditions. A central question that drives his work is, “How can Christian communities come to see religious diversity as a promise rather than as a problem?” He is also committed to Dzogchen meditation and includes time for meditation in virtually all of his courses at Union.
Professor Thatamanil’s first book is an exercise in constructive comparative theology. The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament. An East-West Conversation provides the foundation for a nondualist Christian theology worked out through a conversation between Paul Tillich and Sankara, the master teacher of the Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedanta.
Professor Thatamanil’s second book, Circling the Elephant: A Comparative Theology of Religious Diversity (Fordham University Press, 2020) takes up the recent and extensive literature on the Western construction/invention of the category “religion” with the following questions in mind: If “religion” is a relatively recent invention of the modern West, then is the category applicable to non-Western cultures and traditions? Can we really divide the world up into a set of discrete world religions? Does it still make sense to ask if the world’s “religions” are paths up the same mountain or paths up different mountains? How should theologies of religious diversity be reconfigured in light of these new questions and challenges?
Professor Thatamanil is working on a third book provisionally entitled, Desiring Truth: Comparative Theology and the Quest for Interreligious Wisdom. This book begins by interrogating our troubling post-truth moment: just how did we get here? Taking up an argument made by the late Foucault, Thatamanil argues that the answer partly lies in the modern commitment to separating desiring from knowing in the name of objectivity. By contrast, Buddhist and Hindu traditions insist that without rectifying our desires, there is no possibility of coming to right knowing and genuine wisdom. Thatamanil turns to comparative theology as a resource for addressing a contemporary context rife with misinformation, conspiracy theories, and “alternative facts.”
Professor Thatamanil is a past-president of the North American Paul Tillich Society (NAPTS) and the founding (and current) Chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Theological Education Committee. He is a frequent preacher and lecturer in churches, colleges and universities both nationally and internationally. He also co-edits (with Dr. Loye Ashton) the “Comparative Theology: Thinking Across Traditions” book series for Fordham University Press. He blogs regularly for a variety of online publications and has published editorials in The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.
The Feeling Animal: Theology and Animality
Gandhi as Political Philosopher (with Akeel Bilgrami and Uday Mehta)
This course provides a historical and thematic survey of Hindu thought and practice. Attention is paid to the development of Hindu traditions beginning with the Indus Valley Civilization and concluding with contemporary questions about political Hinduism. The course introduces students to key texts (Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, bhakti poetry, etc.) as well as modes of ritual practice and temple worship. Close reading of primary sources as well as careful reading of selected secondary sources particularly on matters of history and identity is essential to the course. Students are expected to engage the much contested question of whether there is such a thing as "Hinduism" and whether Hinduism might be called a religion.
SPRING 2021, SPRING 2022
Christian theology has dominantly, almost exclusively, been oriented to time over place. The sacred is disclosed and discovered in time and in acts of history whereas attention to the sacrality of place has been dismissed as pagan and particularistic rather than universal. As a result, much Christian theology has been landless and placeless. In this time of the Anthropocene and climate change, place is taking on a new importance in a variety of fields including Christian theology. This course focuses on a wide variety of theoretical and theological approaches to place. From indigenous approaches, bioregionalism to newly developing theologies of place, included is a sustained consideration of the sacrality of place including, of course, the sacredness of the earth itself, our island home. What must Christian theology become if it is to attend to habitats, ecology, bioregions, and place? What does a theology of place look like?
This course provides an introduction to process philosophy and theology. The primary goal is to enable students to consider critically the ongoing significance of process thought for contemporary constructive theology.
Depictions of Mohandas Gandhi are routinely limited to the saintly Mahatma ("Great Soul") and freedom fighter. Few even think to ask how a saint can also be a freedom fighter, a fully engaged participant in the political arena. This course takes Gandhi seriously as a rigorous and creative thinker whose work touches on a remarkable range of topics including liberty, equality, constitutions, civil disobedience, non-violence, religion and politics, social hierarchies (caste, race), identity, and modernity. Coursework consists of primary readings of Gandhi and selected secondary readings by leading thinkers who have explored Gandhi as philosopher. Faculty include two of the most prominent Gandhi scholars of our time.
Increasingly, persons are taking up practices from more than one religious tradition. Some go so far as to claim “double belonging”. This course explores multiple religious’ participation/double belonging and its implications for theology. After exploring a wide range of such phenomena, we ask the following questions: Can one belong to two (or more) different religious traditions and practices at the same time? Is religious “double-dipping” possible? Is it worthwhile? Is it necessary?
This course explores the life and teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Recent years have seen a considerable expansion of the literature on both figures. The time is ripe for reconsideration of their legacy with respect to such central questions as the viability of nonviolent resistance in a context of neoliberalism, ecological devastation, the relationship between spirituality and political engagement, and the conflict between religious traditions. What is the meaning and promise of their double legacy for our time? What can both figures teach us about interreligious dialogue and learning? What is the relationship between the work of Gandhi and King and the later emergence of liberation theology? What can we learn from Malcolm X’s critique of King, B. R. Ambedkar’s critique of Gandhi and feminist critiques of both?
Co-taught with Cornel West.
This course offers an introduction to Tillich’s intellectual legacy and theological system. Attention is given to Tillich’s early work on religious socialism as well as his mature system. Students examine Tillich’s understanding of theological method, God, Christ, Spirit, Church, and eschatology. A goal is to understand Tillich as theologian of culture as well as Tillich’s late contributions to theology’s conversation with religious diversity.