“Fifty Years as an Educator, Leader, and Theologian”: A Friendly Conversation with Dr. P. S. Jacob

Posted: January 10, 2012 in General

While Dr. Saphir Athyal (Former Principal of Union Biblical Seminary) considers Dr. Jacob as “one of the outstanding educators of present-day India”, Dr. Ravi Tiwari (Registrar of the Senate of Serampore University) writes about him: “Gentle, humane and humble to the core are the true characteristics of Dr. Jacob. His deep knowledge, communicated through his life and teaching, has benefited all who have come into contact with him, especially his students, theological and secular alike”.

About Dr. Plamthodathil Samuel Jacob in Brief

Professor Plamthodathil Samuel Jacob began his career at Ahmednagar College, Ahmednagar in Maharashtra in 1959 after his MA in Psychology at the University of Pune. He was associated with the growth and development of the All India Association for Christian Higher Education (AIACHE) and was its president from 1990-1993. Jacob served as the Principal of Ahmednagar College from 1982 until his retirement in 1993. All long his teaching career, he nurtured a keen interest in Philosophy. After his MA in Philosophy from the University of Pune in 1964, he proceeded as a Fulbright Scholar to teach Philosophy courses at Colby College, Waterville, Maine (USA). While Jacob was on the Fulbright programme, he joined the Ecumenical Fellows’ Program in Advanced Religious Studies at The Union Theological Seminary, New York in association with Columbia University, New York. While he was in New York in the Columbia University programme, he met V. S. Naravane, professor of Modern Indian Thought at the University of Pune, who encouraged him to return to India to pursue his doctoral research. His thesis titled “Christian Influence in Modern Indian Thought: A Study in the Philosophy of Religion” was completed under the supervision of Professor S. S. Barlingay and was awarded the Gurudev Ranade Dalme prize by the Univrsity of Pune for the best doctoral thesis in Philosophy during 1972-1973. During 1990-1991 he served as visiting professor at Columbia Theological Seminary (CTS) in Decatur, Georgia. He served as visiting professor in the Department of Religion at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia during 1993-1994. Jacob’s association with the Union Biblical Seminary (UBS) began in 1973 at Yavatmal as a visiting professor. Since 1996, he has served as a full time adjunct professor of Contextual Theology and recently as the Principal of UBS during 2009-2010. For more details, read: Jacob, Grace., and Pulikottil, Paulson, eds. Beyond Borders: Challenging Boundaries of Philosophy, Faith and Education, A Festschrift Celebrating Five Decades of P. S. Jacob’s Career in Education. Bangalore: Primalogue: 2010.

Interview with Dr. Jacob

Question: Dr. Jacob, you served as a secular university professor, principal of Ahmednagar College, professor and principal of Union Biblical Seminary, visiting professor at several international universities, and also as a committed writer. May you share your experiences as a leader and writer with the younger generations of scholars?

Dr. Jacob: As a leader I found that:

(i) A fervent commitment to the transformation of the young people’s lives (my area of service) did really help me to keep the motivation intact.

(ii) Disappointments and discouragements are part of the experience; and cultivating patience persistently and consistently turned out to be very rewarding for ‘going beyond’.

(iii) Another upholding power which came from God was to feel satisfied with the outcome of the work when young lives blossom in transformation; though  others take the credit for ‘your’ work, with or without any reference to ‘your’ hard work, it becomes no hurdle. The concentration has to dwell on praising God for the fruit beneficial to a few or many and not to dwell on the credit that you received or not received. All glory has to be for the Lord and if others ‘steal’ the credit, it is not important for you to fret or feel disappointed! It is hard but regular meditation and prayer and love for others who ‘steal’ the credit is a Christ like quality that as a leader I endeavored constantly to get closer to.

(iv) As a leader one has to be a ‘pioneer’ and not confined to traditional practices and educational ideals. A leader is not a follower (others follow him!). Jesus was a pioneer and a creator of newness. As a follower of Christ ideals, I strived hard to imbibe it as much as I could.  Practically speaking, one comes across obstacles when pioneering in academic and administrative applications. People may misunderstand you and you may become a victim of jealousy and malice but one has to prod on. In pioneering, one has to begin standing on the familiar ground and break new paths steadily and patiently. Pioneering is necessary because the young people are ‘new age people’ and their development should not be smothered by traditional practices alone. Always provide some area of new beginning in teaching, learning and practical application in life keeping the challenges of new age in front of them. The challenge has been to keep one foot on the familiar ground and another on an unknown new ground and keep the back foot ready to step beyond.

(v) I found that a title of a book by a famous industrialist-philanthropist, William Danforth: “Not Things but Men”. Those were old days, when the word ‘men’ also included ‘women’. Perhaps, today we may rephrase it as “Not Things but humans”. I was lucky to find it on the logo of Ahmednagar College with an added phrase introduced by the founder of the College (Rev.Dr B.P. Hivale) “I Dare You”. It is that daring that I decided to exercise and it did help me very much. Identification of the potentials of each young man and woman that God brought under my care in the College/Seminary/University has been a stimulating exercise in leadership activities. Revisualizing their new age life is a constant challenge and one needs to keep up in understanding their dreams and visions for life. Help them to ‘dream dreams’ and ‘see visions’ that are meaningful for them and others through leadership role, always remained a challenge.

(vi) There may be resistance to change from one’s colleagues, coworkers or Governing Board periodically while introducing change. One has to patiently help them to understand the need for change and its possibilities meaningfully. Most people will understand it eventually but some may refuse to give up! It doesn’t matter, keep moving!

(vii) I have learned to ‘walk alone’ in the midst of thorny paths but the light of the Lord made the ‘walk’ possible though painful along the way. Dwelling on the joy and peace that come from God has been my strength, focusing on harmony along with ‘newness’.

(viii) As a writer, the challenge has been to strive for transforming scholarly findings in an inspiring form for the readers (keeping the readers and listeners in mind).

(ix) I have found that leadership is a process in daily living and there is no perfect form that is complete; we learn daily. Let leaders be learners.

(x) All leaders make mistakes and pioneers make more mistakes but one learns to transform those into successes over a period of time through patience and corrective measures.

Question: As a Christian scholar specialized in Hinduism and Indian Philosophy, what were your major challenges/promises?

Dr. Jacob: The major challenge has been to maintain authentic scholarship without prejudice and precaution. Learning Hinduism as a “Hindu does” and understanding the intricacies of the complexities of Indian philosophy as an “Indian philosopher does” without being prejudiced by one’s own belief or personal philosophy, remained a persistent challenge. It remained a constant ‘great’ effort while visiting archives of oriental research libraries, orthodox Hindu worship places, engaging in conversation with people of other faiths in love and engaging in discussion with other scholars who differed while maintaining an unfailing thirst for true knowledge. Listening to what others have to say and understanding it in the way they do, proved to be another challenge. The promises have been to know the truth of their belief/persuasion directly and not to be misled by monumental scholars who agree with you. I found that there is a great challenge in scholarship to apply Jesus’ own words: Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8: 31, 32; NIV). One could go beyond the doctrinal boundaries, and apply it to ‘secular’ knowledge, education and teaching and learning. Understanding the truth (in the field of science, humanities, social sciences, and theology) will set you free from the prejudices and precautions. It releases you from confinement to human made boundaries of knowledge those restrict you; and helps you to ‘leap forward’.

Question: As a scholar in Hinduism/Indian Philosophy, how you read/interpret the New Testament writings?

Dr. Jacob: What helped me most was to interpret New Testament writings by going back to the light of the words of Jesus in a fresh way. The good news is in his words. Try to interpret the writings in the light of his original words. God chose an oriental setting for the incarnation of His Love, in the earthly life of Jesus, his death and resurrection. It remained my constant light and I found that his words in Oriental expressions are easily understood in the Hindu and Indian Philosophical context. While there is a wealth of knowledge and variations of interpretations by scholars from all over the world, as a committed learner of Hinduism/Indian philosophy, going back to the Eastern mode of his words and understanding the NT in that context helped me.

Question: In your opinion, what is the best methodology one can employ when s/he interprets the NT in the pluralistic context of India?

Dr. Jacob: In the pluralistic context of India, one could dwell more on the ‘Universal’ appeal of Jesus as the savior of all with openness of understanding, that is, what I am tempted to call “openness methodology” (currently I am working on its format in spelling it out more concretely; others are welcome to give their contribution to it from different perceptual angles).

Question: Do you have any special advice to give for the upcoming biblical scholars, especially NT interpreters, in India or elsewhere?

Dr. Jacob: My suggestion to them is that while reviewing the earlier interpretations, venture into new interpretations which are more understandable by people of other faiths as well. It will certainly lead us to unknown possibilities. New Testament is the word of God and it cannot be confined to doctrinal interpretations alone.  Word of God has ‘infinite’ possibilities of understanding and those possibilities should be explored as much as the interpreters can. Scholarship comes from understanding a wide range of possibilities while one holds on to one’s belief and above all unfailing faith in Jesus.

Thank you Dr. Jacob for sparing your valuable time with us and opening up yourself in order to share your ideas with new generation scholars.

Interviewed by Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

  1. Jesudas Athyal says:

    Dr. Jacob is a teacher and an educator par excellence. He is one of the few educators who left a mark in the fields of both secular education and theological education. That speaks volumes for the breadth and depth of his wisdom. Personally speaking, Dr. Jacob was my Ph.D. guide and, even after my formal studies, he continued to take an active interest in my work. For several years, as we worked on the Oxford Encyclopedia of South Asian Christianity, he was a great source of support and strength. He continues to be a source of inspiration in my new project, which is editing Religion in Southeast Asia: An Encyclopedia. May God continue to bless him.

  2. Dr. Jesudas Athyal, thanks a lot for your nice words about Dr. Jacob. Once Dr. Jacob shared with me about you and your excellence as a researcher. Dr. Jacob is one of the few leaders who has a great heart for the younger generations.

  3. Franklin Samraj says:

    Very Nice Interview with a Christian Leader. It was nice to meet him during the 2011 Conference celebrating the centenary of 1911 World missionary conferee at UBS.

    I had at that time referred to the need of AICHE and other bodies to look into the the formation of a Christian University with corporate denominational support.. Dr. Fox who coordinated the discussion at the conference hoped it would be realized soon.

    I hope that Dr. Jacob with his experience can initiate some people into a working group with a time frame and a workable Idea for a Christian University for the educational needs of the Indians at the collegiate level of learning in different disciplines of study for service

  4. “A Christian University for the educational needs of the Indians at the collegiate level of learning in different disciplines of study for service”. A good idea indeed. Dr. Jacob is one among a few who can take initiative for such a plan.

  5. Ashish H. Khan says:

    It was a very special privilege to study under Dr PSJ (UBS 2004-2008). It was a wonderful time studying religion under him. He helped me to look at religion (Hinduism in particular) from a scholarly point of view. Now I do not feel uncomfortable with the discipline of religious studies…Thank you Sir…

  6. K.C.Abraham says:

    Dr.P.S Jacob was my teacher during my study at U.B.S( 1999-2003),He taught us Hinduism.Also I did a thesis under his guidence.His interactions enable me to study about religion,philosophy and Psychology.

  7. […] was Interim Principal of Union Biblical Seminary, Pune. For more details about Dr. P. S. Jacob go here. I requested him to write a post about Narayan Vaman Tilak and he is herewith for […]

  8. […] (3) “Fifty Years as an Educator, Leader, and Theologian”: A Friendly Conversation with Dr. P. S. Ja… […]

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