Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Findeis: A Lifelong Advocate for Dialogue & Interfaith Understanding
Professor Dr Hans-Juergen Findeis embodied the essence of an ancient Indian sage, seemingly reincarnated to impart wisdom within the halls of Western universities, with the noble aim of fostering a genuine understanding and appreciation of the spiritual traditions rooted in the Oriental world.
Prof Dr. Hans Juergen Findies undeniably stood as an ardent champion of dialogue. My initial encounter with this intellectual giant occurred in 1995 at the Mumbai University campus in Kalina. Dr. Findeis astounded me with his profound understanding of Kerala’s denominational disputes, specifically the contentious tussle between the Orthodox and Jacobite factions. Astonishingly, he possessed a more comprehensive grasp of my own Marthoma Church than I did. Upon his return, during vacations in Germany, he generously imparted his wisdom by delivering lectures at prestigious seminaries across India, fostering cross-denominational friendships. Notably, one of the bishops of the Marthoma Church, Bishop Issac Philexinos, had been a student at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), where Dr. Findeis served as a visiting faculty member.
Upanishad’s and the Bibile-NewTestament
My admiration for Prof Dr. Findeis deepened as I delved further into his persona, guided by insights from my friend and his nephew, Sudharshan. As an Indologist and the dean of the Faculty of Theology at the renowned Bonn University in Germany, a citadel of academic excellence on multiple fronts, Prof. Dr. Findeis embodied the essence of a polymath. His erudition extended to the Upanishads and other sacred texts of Hinduism, complemented by his knowledge in the Sanskrit language. I distinctly recall attending his lecture series, Somiya College at Vidya Vihar,( now Somiya Vidya Vihar University) focusing on a comparative study of the Upanishads and the Gospels, including Corinthians, in collaboration with scholars from diverse faiths. What rendered this symposium even more captivating was the fact that Prof. Dr. Findeis himself assumed the mantle of interpreting the Upanishats.
His ceaseless ardor for engaging in conversations, particularly with those who harbored opposing perspectives, was a vivid testament to his resolute dedication to the pursuit of intellectual exchange. To underscore the profound extent of his commitment to dialogue, the exchange of ideas, and the core principle of embracing differences, he consistently explored the intricate dynamics of the rule of God, a subject that also constituted the focus of his doctoral thesis.
Oriental Christianity: transcending cultural and religious boundaries
Oriental Christianity, particularly in the Indian context, encapsulated the essence of what Dr. Findies deeply believed in. Although he held an academic position at Bonn University, his heart truly resided in India. He personified the spirit of Indianness, embodying the wisdom, actions, and inclusive approaches of an ancient Hindu sage who prioritized knowledge, wisdom, and the exchange of ideas above all.
In my prior encounters with Indian theologians, I was mostly exposed to those who approached their work from a Marxist perspective. It seemed that many of them discussed Indian Christianity and its context without delving into the profound depths of ancient Indian texts. Often, they presented Indian Christianity from an intellectual backdrop of Marxism and Left ideologies that had significantly influenced them, or they adapted their discourse to the global forums where they spoke a language aligned with their best interests.
However, Prof. Dr. Findeis stood out as a unique individual. He not only possessed a profound knowledge of ancient Hindu scriptures but also displayed a deep understanding of the diverse cultural and spiritual traditions of India, alongside his familiarity with Marxist philosophies. His circle of friends and dialogue partners extended to Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, and practitioners of various faiths. At an intellectual level, he recognized no boundaries or barriers within ancient texts and teachings; instead, he saw the convergence of various philosophies.
Prof. Dr. Findies excelled not only in harmonizing and comprehending these diverse traditions at an academic and intellectual level but also in infusing a rational and deeply spiritual dimension into the discourse.
“Dynamics of Rule of God”
Within the domain of the dynamics of the rule of God, Prof. Dr. Findeis maintained the view that it is a realm teeming with diversity and open to dissenting opinions. In fact, he argued that it not only welcomes such diversity but also accommodates a place even for the Devil and Satanic forces. This perspective accentuates his profound belief in the inclusivity and expansiveness of the rule of God, which remains as a cornerstone of his intellectual philosophy.
His unwavering willingness to engage in dialogue with individuals from all walks of life, including those who held opposing or even diametrically opposed viewpoints, stands as a powerful testament to his conviction.
Interfaith dialogue, Vipasana Meditations and Indian Cultural & Religious traditions
The interfaith dialogues that we orchestrated at the Kalina campus, thoughtfully arranged by Professor Annakutty Findeis, became a staple in my calendar. These sessions not only enriched my understanding of diverse religions but also afforded me the privilege of witnessing Dr. Findeis as an exemplar of grace and composure. His unwavering equanimity set the standard for engaging in dialogue: he never allowed anger or disrespect to tarnish his exchanges with others. His adeptness as a keen listener and astute observer was equally remarkable.
He was married to Professor Dr Annakutty, originally from Palai, Kerala. Professor Annakutty is an esteemed scholar in the fields of intercultural philosophy and German language and literature at Mumbai University. She has undertaken the commendable task of translating some of the prominent Malayalam literary works into the German language. Her conviction lies in the idea that literature, regardless of its origin, should be made accessible to a global audience.
The interfaith sessions spearheaded by Professor Annakutty, affectionately referred to as “Chachy,” persisted from 1998 to 2001 at the Kalina campus of Mumbai University. These congregations brought together individuals from various faith backgrounds to deliberate on a gamut of theological and philosophical subjects. The incorporation of Vipassana meditation, in which Dr. Findeis actively participated, lent a distinctive dimension to these gatherings. Eminent Buddhist monks from Burma, namely Ven. Punnobasa and Ven. Nandaka, who were students at the time, regularly led us in Vipassana meditation. In a city typically engrossed in financial and stock market affairs, our discussion group stood as a sanctuary for profound discourse.
During one of our final virtual interactions, Dr. Findeis, accompanied by Chachy, fervently discussed a novel project. This initiative aimed to expose his students to diverse cultures, emphasizing observational learning. It is intriguing to observe the transformation of pedagogical methods in advanced societies like Germany, and Dr. Findeis played a pivotal role in this evolution.
Dr. Findeis maintained a broad spectrum of friendships. His seemingly innocuous queries and comments, rooted in astute observations of contemporary events, consistently piqued our collective curiosity. In the midst of an interfaith dialogue, Professor Jose George visited us for some time. A plethora of substantial books, particularly those concerning Hinduism, including the Vedas and Upanishads, adorned the table. Professor Jose George, a staunch Marxist and a professor at Mumbai University Department of Civics and Politics, perused these profound volumes. When it was pointed out that he was reading the Vedas and Upanishads, Dr. Findeis quipped that these texts might prove too weighty for him to handle, eliciting a collective chuckle!
Harnessing India’s soft power: religious and philosophical traditions
Dr. Findeis staunchly advocated for the international influence of Indian culture, extending beyond the realms of yoga and the country’s renowned cultural attractions. As a seasoned academic, he passionately argued that Indian universities should integrate courses dedicated to theologies of Indian religions.
In India, the culture of dialogue, especially among common people, has a robust foundation of spirituality, a facet he frequently acknowledged. In contrast to the West, where philosophical and theological discourses are often institutionally framed, India’s theological and philosophical dialogues flourish outside such structures.
Institutional framework for religious & theological studies beyond Yoga
Dr. Findeis emphasized the importance of adapting to contemporary times and establishing institutional frameworks for intellectual discussions, discourse, and research at higher levels. Informal dialogues may sometimes prove inadequate, and within a knowledge-based economy, it is imperative to provide a platform for our diverse religious traditions within our academic institutional framework.
These traditions should be systematically integrated into mainstream curricula, ensuring their preservation and continuous engagement in the ever-evolving world of academia.
This academic approach, he believed, would not only stimulate research into Indian religions and the diverse spiritual traditions they encompass, but also promote the study of sacred texts from a multitude of backgrounds, mirroring the rigorous academic landscape in Germany. Such an institutional framework, he argued, would foster a more harmonious environment, promoting cordiality and facilitating systematic discussions and dialogues at an academic level.
Regrettably, one incident that merits discussion is the loss of Dr. Findeis’ laptop during his journey from Germany to Kerala. Despite our collective efforts to locate it through the airline and airport authorities, the laptop, which housed crucial documents and research notes, was irretrievably lost. Coincidentally, Dr. Findeis was in the final stages of writing a book on Mahatma Gandhi, a work that held the promise of delivering outstanding contributions and fresh interpretations. We can only hope that Chachy may provide some insight into Dr. Findeis’ perspective on this poignant matter.
Epitomized an ancient India Sage!
Prof. Dr. Findeis embodied the essence of an ancient Indian sage, seemingly traversing the boundaries of time and space, as if a reincarnation, to impart wisdom within the hallowed halls of Western academia. His noble mission was to illuminate the Western world with a profound understanding of the intricate and spiritually profound traditions that have graced the Orient for millennia.
With the passing of Prof. Hans Findeis, we bid farewell to a cherished friend. He was a source of invaluable feedback and wisdom, regardless of the subject’s seeming triviality. He was not merely a mentor, but a leading light in our dialogue sessions. His absence leaves an irreplaceable void.