In an increasingly convoluted world of religions and cultures, it is imperative to develop and foster social harmony so as to meet the challenges posed by diversity. Recognizing religious diversity and differences is quite important today, and it is quite significant that all religions sustain and reinforce mutual understanding and empathy through dialogue. They also have an obligation to uphold peace and further intra and inter religious harmony with a view to fostering social harmony.
Kerala, with multi-religious traditions and practices, has a unique distinction of having upheld the principle of ‘harmony in diversity’ and sought to respect each other and bear social responsibilities commonly. Notwithstanding these historical trajectories of secular engagements, there are apprehensions today that interfaith relations tend to get affected by political as well as socio-economic undercurrents and hence promoting social harmony remains a crucial challenge towards the building of a harmonious society.
It is in this context that the values of renaissance are continuously engaged and brought to light. The launching of ‘Renaissance Lectures’ by Vakkom Moulavi Memorial and Research Centre (VMMRC), Vakkom, Thiruvananthapuram is a part of this task of resuscitating humanist and secular values of Kerala.
Delivering the first Renaissance Web-Lecture on “Religion, Amity and Society” by VMMRC, eminent theologist and scholar Fr. Dr K.M. George said that “We are living in a complex world of multitudes where we need human harmony rather than religious harmony.” Fr. George, who is currently Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios Chair at Mahatma Gandhi University, said that “religious harmony is good and inevitable, but social harmony must go beyond any religious cordons if peace is the ultimate aim of everything.”
Fr. George said that “COVID-19 has taught a lesson that we need to be more of ‘fellow-breathers’ rather than ‘fellow-believers’, in a pandemic situation (referring to the reports of shortage of oxygen which actually knows no religion, nor any man-made identity). We can become ‘believers’ only after ensuring sufficient oxygen for all to breath. The implication of this is that we must transcend barriers of religion when we live in a society of different people with different persuasions.” Fr. George said that “all systems and structures, including religion, degenerate as a consequence of waning of internal criticism and self-correction. Unless we maintain internal vigilance, with perpetual awareness about what is happening around us and what is declining, this degenerative process will continue with enormous costs and consequences.” He forewarned that “the great eternal values of renaissance, as exemplified through humanism, will wither away if we don’t have mechanisms for self-criticism.”
Fr George pointed out that “Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam—acknowledged as one of the world’s most famous art treasures—set in motion a wave of renaissance in Europe. In a few years after this work, reformation started in the Catholic church and a search for human being started beyond religion and ideologies. The concept of ‘common good’ emerged in this period of enlightenment with considerable intellectual activity which eventually opened doors for rational and humanistic understanding of society.” He reminded; Canadian singer Leonard Cohen’s poem ‘Anthem’ (1991) has a line which runs like this:
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in..
Fr. George said that “in all established systems, cracks developed from time to time with the intervention of great visionaries and intellectuals who eventually helped the light get in. Renaissance took place with such cracks kept facilitating much-needed light and consciousness for social transformation embedded in humanism.” He said that Vakkom Moulavi and Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai were the pioneers of Kerala renaissance who reinforced the values of humanism, with their writings and interventions. Moulavi being a multilinguist (well versed in Malayalam, English, Arabic, Urdu, Tamil) had exposure to the reform and renaissance trends across the world, and that naturally brought new pathways of social and religious transformation in Kerala.
Fr. George called for a revisit of the values of renaissance for the good of all. However, he said, “we must also be aware of the limits of the concept man is the measure of all things in a changing world of serious environmental crisis, of gender and marginality issues. All these call for a great caution in valourising anthropocentric worldview.”
Dr. A.K. Ramakrishnan, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University who chaired the session stressed the need to resuscitate the humanist ethics of renaissance and called for extreme vigilance in using religion for sectarian purposes. He said that exclusion and marginalisation, in the name of religion, will be destabilising society if norms of respecting difference are not adhered to.
Dr B. Ekbal, Dr. Sebastian Vattamattam, Dr V. Mathew Kurian, Sri. Philip Mathew, Dr. M.V. Bijulal, Sri Nahas, Dr. K.M. Seethi and others spoke. Sri. Sameer Muneer welcomed.