Dr. Dyron Daughrity, Associate Professor of Religion, Pepperdine University, California, was with us at Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, for about a week as a Retreat Speaker. On 7th July 2011, I approached him for an appointment to discuss about the topic “Eastern-Western Academic Interactions” and he graciously granted himself soon after his presentation at the postgraduate and doctorate level in the faculty room. Following is an excerpt from our discussion.
Question: Dr. Dyron, how challenging it is as you are a Westerner who travels, researches, and lectures in the East?
Answer: For me it is not actually challenging, but rewarding. It strengthens and propels my scholarship and faith. In the East, I am privileged to be connected with new ways of thinking, new people, and new articles. When I get out of the West, I get drastically embraced in different ways of thinking. I see several commonalities and differences between the Western and the Eastern worlds. I would like to point out a few here. The commonalities are: (1) English language is adapted by people from all over the world; from Christian perspective it is a positive development; (2) Emotionally, we are quite similar, i.e., both the Easterners and the Westerners are ambitious for their personal lives, careers, and families; and (3) Both the Easterners and the Westerners struggle with meaning. Differences can be summarized in the following way: Westerners have a much more profound insistence on individualism; but, Easterners are community-oriented in lifestyle.
Question: I know that you are a Church Historian. Can you share with me a few thoughts about the global phenomenon of Christianity today?
Answer: Major changes are going on in Christianity today—changes that will impact the future of this religion forever. This is not altogether surprising. Christianity has always morphed, reformed, and spread to new places. A few words must be said about secularization—a concept that is commonly applied to the Western world, western Europe in particular. Western Europe was for centuries linked to Latin-based Christianity—first for the Roman Catholic Church and after 1517 various Protestant forms of faith. Secularization has destroyed that link—at least for the time being. But still, in many ways, Western Europe seems bathed in Latin, Roman Christianity. In 1900, 82% of the world’s Christians lived in Europe or North America; only 18% of the world’s Christians were outside the Euro-North American block. In the year 2005, only 39% of the world’s Christians are living in Europe or North America. Currently, Christianity’s heartland moved south to the point that over 60% of the world’s Christians now live in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Christianity’s center of gravity has shifted in recent years. The changes are astonishing. The majority of Christians today live in the global South. This phenomenon has caused a splash in the academic study of religion.
Question: Do you think that the Eastern and the Western academic worlds need to relate?
Answer: Whereas it is important for Westerners to engage Eastern topics, Westerners will never be insiders to Eastern topics. The same is true with Easterners. It is important for us to try even if we fail for the sake of scholarship. The crosspollination of ideas is critical for academic progress. It forces us to revitalize our ideas.
Question: What are the means through which we can foster Eastern-Western scholarly interactions?
Answer: I would like to highlight the following points: (1) Direct invitations to each other are absolutely critical; (2) Intellectual justifications for the need of cross-cultural exchange (funding during a recession must be amply justified); (3) Jointly-authored publications force both the parties to re-think their ideas; (4) Easterners tend to rely largely on Western scholarship; however, Westerners are far less likely to integrate Eastern scholarship into their academic exercises; and (5) Funding is a central concern. Obviously cross-cultural initiatives must be largely funded by Western agencies. The trick is how to divorce funding from issues of power and that is no easy task.
Thanks Dyron, for your valuable time of sharing. Best wishes for your academic career at Pepperdine University and other parts of the world.
NB: If you are interested in knowing more about Dr. Dyron Daughrity, view his professional CV here: http://seaver.pepperdine.edu/academics/faculty/member.htm?facid=dyron_daughrity
(Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India)