Personalism East and West

I just came back from the fifth ISKCON Studies Conference, organized at wonderful Radhadesh/Château de Petite Somme in the Ardennes outside Durbuy in Belgium, by Kenneth Valpey and Ferdinando Sardella (who both spoke at the 12th International Conference on Persons in Lund in August) of the ISKCON Studies Institute, a subdivision of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies; the institute publishes the ISKCON Studies Journal. Many old friends attended as well as new faces from different parts of the world. I spoke on ‘Personalism East and West’ (see abstract below).

Château de Petite Somme (Photo: Jean-Pol Grandmont)

Château de Petite Somme (Photo: Jean-Pol Grandmont)

The Radhadesh website is temporarily offline for technical reasons so I cannot link to it here; awaiting the solution of the technical problems, they refer to this temporary blog. Radhadesh is almost certainly the most important ISKCON temple community in Europe, and the site not only of the temple and of ashramas, but also, and not least, of many important international conferences since the early 1990s. Among them I have attended several ISKCON Communications Seminars and ISKCON Conventions, and one meeting of the Bhaktivedanta Academy of Arts and Sciences, all with many prominent Hinduism and other religion scholars from inside and outside of ISKCON.

The restaurant (Photo: Jean Housen)

The restaurant (Photo: Jean Housen)

Radhadesh has gradually been developed into a first class conference centre with a new hotel – called a guesthouse – next to the château, and an excellent restaurant in an adjacent building. However, I think this was the first time the ISKCON Studies Conference was held here – a couple of years ago I spoke on ‘Conversion, Preaching, and Western Cultural Identity’ at an earlier ISC on the theme of Transmitting the Truth: Education, Preaching, and Conversion in ISKCON, at the equally beautiful Villa Vrindavana outside Florence; as far as I understand, that paper will soon appear in the next issue of the ISKCON Studies Journal. Radhadesh is also the site of Bhaktivedanta College, where ten years ago I taught the introduction to Western philosophy course. Since I was last there, a new building for accommodation of the students, as well as for the college library, had been built. Finally, on the premises is also found the building housing the Bhaktivedanta Library Services.

During this visit to Belgium I also had the opportunity to take photos of some parts of or with certain angles on Poelaert’s Palais de Justice in Brussels which I have not been able to find on the internet, and some of the Parc de Bruxelles by the Palais Royal and the streets next to it. I plan to publish them here. The many beautiful late nineteenth-century buildings on Avenue du Midi south of Place Rouppe, Boulevard Maurice Lemonnier, Boulevard Anspach, and Boulevard Adolphe Max must also be photographed on some other occasion. Especially the first two of these are in a part of Brussels that seems to be quickly slummed now (most of central Brussels is), so that it is not clear to what extent the buildings will be preserved. Buildings of this kind remain continuously threatened all over the world since the process of discovery of the fact that this was a golden age of architecture (as of much else) is still very slow. In some places, they are still almost systematically destroyed, and because of the lack of interest in them, they are not even properly photographed. Hotel Métropole on Place de Brouckère is now Brussels’ only remaining nineteenth-century hotel, and striving to preserve as much as possible of its original design etc. Imaginative historical reconstruction is needed in order to understand how beautiful and well-ordered this area was a hundred years ago. I also had time for a short visit to Leuven.

A corner of the main temple room, with the murti of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

A corner of the main temple room, with the murti of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

But I digress. Here is the abstract of my presentation, ‘Personalism East and West’:

This presentation will be an introduction to the comparative study of Eastern and Western personalism, with special reference to the personalism of the theistic form of Vedanta represented by ISKCON. A certain kind of propedeutic to this study is necessary, since without it, the real nature and implications of the differences between the respective forms of personalism are normally overlooked and the similarities to some extent misconstrued and misunderstood. The relevant historical, cultural and intellectual contexts will therefore be outlined, and only with these basic perspectives firmly in place will the presentation move on to a brief overview of the conceptual and terminological histories of “person” and related notions in the West and of comparable ideas in the East. This overview will, for the purposes of the introduction to the subject, be given exclusively in light of and with constant reference to the mentioned fundamental perspectives on the general, constitutive characteristics of and differences between Eastern and Western thought as historically developed. In this way, the presesentation will seek to prepare the ground for a subsequent step in the comparative work, through which, along with more particularized study of individual personalist thinkers, schools, and positions, meaningful East-West relations can be established and possibilities of mutual influence and adjustment and new syntheses fruitfully explored.

Photo by Jean-Pol Grandmont

Photo by Jean Housen

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"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
Ramana Maharshi