Brahmachari Vrajvihari Sharan joined Georgetown this fall as the university’s first full-time director for Hindu life and the first Hindu priest-chaplain in the United States.
Sharan’s studies and ministry have taken him from his birthplace in the United Kingdom through South Asia and back, earning his master’s degree and completing his doctoral thesis at the University of Edinburgh with stints at the University of Delhi and Oxford University, before going on to teach at Cardiff University and the University of London. In an interview with The Hoya on Wednesday, Sharan discussed the importance of spirituality in his life and his new role at Georgetown.
It seems as though your career and your life have taken you all over the world in this whirlwind journey. Has your journey of faith matched up with that? Is there anything that being in a particular place or having different experiences does for you?
By a lot of good luck, I’ve been able to see a lot of the entire scope or the entire spectrum of human life on this planet, from the extremely needy to the other side. I love being with the needy people, because I think I am just as needy but in a different way.
It is refreshing always to see that even in the midst of their suffering or in their poverty or in their neediness, that they’re always so open-hearted, whereas the other end of the spectrum seems to be the reverse: They have everything, but they have a very cold, closed heart.
Do you see any specific need here that you are hoping to fill?
When I came here, the campus ministry were interested in providing a resource for the students, the Hindu students specifically, that was able to deepen their knowledge of their own religion and their own spirituality. Luckily for them, I suppose, I taught Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism as well as Hinduism. So the few Jain students that are here, the few here, I’ve enjoyed interacting with them as well.
It seems that deepening spirituality is one thing, but also interfaith relations, providing a presence for the South Asian religions or the Dharmic traditions as they’re called, finding a presence for the Dharmic traditions at the table of interfaith here, was desired for so long and has finally come about.
It is clear that this is a huge step for Georgetown toward that goal of having interreligious understanding, which is such a great part of our Jesuit tradition as well. Are there any specific plans that you have for that this semester?
There are a lot of interfaith opportunities as it stands built into the programming of Georgetown and I say that’s a testament. Some people, especially people in the U.K., have a very negative view of the Catholic Church. I think that when people are trying to change, it’s not helpful to keep bringing up negativities. It’s very important that if somebody’s making an effort to change, you support their change.
I have received quite a heavy criticism for joining a Catholic institution, but I believe that if people are trying to change, you should always try to help and support them in any way you can. That’s true selflessness. That’s true humanity.
The programs that are definitely more interfaith, I’m always going to be at them, and there are a few interfaith things that I’m already planning regarding basically talking. Dialogue is how interfaith works, but dialogue that’s held in an open arena so that people can see that we are getting along very well.
Each of the different faith traditions actually gets along very well and when you come to Georgetown. You can see that all the faith traditions are operating in the same space — under the Catholic umbrella, but we’re all faithful to our own traditions. It’s a good example for everybody else outside who does not see religion working together well. This is how it’s supposed to work and we want this example to be out there as much as possible.
Would you say that the interfaith aspect is one of your favorite things about coming to Georgetown?
I do. I’ve done a lot of interfaith work in the U.K. and the interfaith work also gives me a particularly vested interest being a Dharmic tradition adherent. Dharmic traditions have not received a positive representation. Part of that is our own fault. There are unhelpful political situations that are taking place in South Asia at the moment, which does not help, but then there are a lot of good things that unfortunately have not been recognized due to whatever sort of climate, politically, or however it has been throughout the years. I believe, as change is the order of the day, we can do something about it.
What is your favorite thing about coming to Georgetown that is not rel
ated to school and work?
What I find about Georgetown that is particularly alluring is its ability to be this big, old faith center, an institution built on faith that still has people coming to it who are not aligned with any particular faith. To see how they are engaging with a religious institution in the way that they do, it gives me a lot of hope because there are other places in the world where if you profess any sort of faith, you’re viewed as if you come from some ancient dimension and you’re obsolete and you’re basically a fool for believing in anything else other than what is accepted as rational.
To see that there is this engagement, it really is a very heartening thing because for the Dharmic traditions, we kind of pride ourselves on our ability to remain very scientific, which is why we still have a lot of people who are science-based following our practices even if they don’t subscribe to the whole theology of it. They do still adhere to the practices because they make a difference.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.