Thursday, July 13, 2006

Networking Faiths in Oxford

I've lived in Oxford for a little over 6 years, not very long, but several generations of ancestors on my father's side have been in the area - particularly in Horspath and Wendlebury - during the 17th and 18th Centuries. I've been fascinated to know how the University (and thence the city) of world-reknown emerged; reading almost any history, you find that the original seed was sown by Saint Frideswide. She was the one who established it's original foundations through a priory, and since then spirituality and Faith have given real life at the heart of the city of Oxford; the Colleges and Halls that later came to be known as the Collegiate University were established for religious purposes and have given birth to many movements. You can still find places of pilgrimage in and around Oxford to reflect on St. Frideswide - there are churches named after her, her tomb, and shrines where there's a statue, such as the Lady Chapel of St. Michael's at the North Gate.

However, nowadays, some would say that St. Frideswide and her vision are badly neglected, especially at the University. From my personal observation, the institution is fastidious in keeping the role of spirituality and Faith as an individual presonal matter, being at pains not to show a hint of apologetics itself; in my work at the University I communicate with Central Administration about multifaith and interfaith matters not directly through faith per se but through my being an 'ethnic minority'! It's a world away from previous centuries. Yet this curiosity might offer a way forward because 'ethnic minorities' represent great and populous nations, where spirituality and Faith are often taken much more to heart and treated with reverence and respect; today Oxford is home to people from many nations around the world and is thus naturally multi-faith.

Whatever the University's current official stance, there's considerable activity among and between faiths, but it's not easy to know what's going on, even for someone who has the time and wherewithall to tap into the various sources. So how to facilitate something to connect and support each other better? Here I'll just mention a few personal thoughts about this process, and try to write a few points about vision, what this is all this for.

To me Oxford should have a global vision with spirituality and faith right at the heart of it that is - as has been said so often - "locally rooted, globally connected." The sense of spirituality can be variously expressed. From my Buddhist perspective, lokuttara dhamma is a phrase in the ancient Pali language that connotes the essence of spirituality, referring to transcendence of Samsara through Path, Fruition and Nirvana (a phrase I already mentioned in notes on Bohm's discussion of fragmentation and wholeness). Oxford has a very rich spiritual heritage spanning more than a thousand years, making it a well-established religious centre of major importance; more recently the influx of people from so many nations around the world makes it a microcosm of global faiths. My father noticed that even though Oxford has a small population, it has people from so many different nations, which you would only ordinarily encounter in a city like London.

If I am to start setting down a list of points, what should I put for point number 1? I think that should set the tone, so should really speak from the heart of spirituality, with which people of Faith can resonate, something that gives real meaning to life in contrast to acquisitive and mechanistic existence. So I would suggest something along the lines of:

1. Promoting spirituality and faith as a means for deeper meaning in life. Then, I think it is worth talking about shared spiritual values and there's already been a huge amount of work at many levels through the declaration towards a Global ethic: 2. The cultivation of spiritual values and a global ethic

As a simple basis for how we should conduct our lives, there are four directives in the Global Ethic: i. commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life ii. commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order iii. commitment to a culture of tolerance and life of truthfulness iv. commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women

(personally, I think this misses a 5th directive of keeping mindful by avoiding intoxicants such as alcohol, but four is better than zero!)

This has to be validated, so it seems fitting that the book 'Testing the Global Ethic' was edited by Oxford people - Rev. Dr Marcus Braybrooke and Peggy Morgan. It's not just an academic work - note the 'Call to our Guiding Institutions' that seeks to apply these values at many levels in society: And I'd continue by talking about establishing common purpose...

" finding common ground internally and externally to progress on a united front, so as to develop harmony and support each other, thereby working towards a community of friendship, mutual respect, sharing and learning among the cultures and faiths of Oxford and a source of inspiration for all." I tend to emphasise unity because the world is such a fragmented place.

So a little vision, a personal vision, with just a couple of points that I hope might be a useful contribution to any co-ordinated initiative. I hope many others will contribute theirs... How about an Oxford faiths wiki...? :-)

1 comment:

carlo.55 said...

I think Oxford University is definitely one of the world's greatest educational institution. It's history is rich and it has produced a many famous intellectual giants. For me Oxford has to combine its rich tradtiotn with modern innovation in order for it to excel among other universities.