My CSAR Fellowship in SAIACS, Bangalore

Posted: September 30, 2016 in General

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The Center for South Asian Research (CSAR) is a collaborative program of South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS), Theological Book Network (TBN), and ScholarLeaders International (SLI). I signed a contract with the CSAR to be a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow for a period of five months (i.e., May 1, 2016 till September 30, 2016). In the contract, I agreed to meet the following requirements: first, focus time and energy on the writing, providing regular updates to the CSAR committee; second, participate in the life of the SAIACS community and CSAR programs; third, honor the community expectations during the stay on campus in SAIACS; fourth, publish the research work without further delay; and fifth, provide feedback and evaluation to the CSAR committee. In order to meet the demands, the CSAR provided me the following facilities: first, reimbursement for travel expense (up to USD 500); second, food and lodging through the SAIACS Commons; third, work space with library and internet access; fourth, opportunities to engage in the academic, worship, and social life of the SAIACS campus; and fifth, a stipend of USD 1,000 per month. During my stay in SAIACS, I was engaged in researching on St. Thomas and writing a major part of my book entitled “Didymus Judas Thomas: New Testament, Apocrypha, and Historical Traditions” (a title proposed to T&T Clark/Bloomsbury). My stay in SAIACS during the last five months provided me with access to various resource persons and research avenues. The following are some of the highlights of my CSAR Fellowship.

May 2016: In May, I started the research work in SAIACS based on the Apocryphal Thomas Literature. The library (with its online access) here provided me a large number of materials. I also visited the libraries of The United Theological College, St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary, Dharmaram Vidhya Kshethram, and The Ecumenical Christian Centre, all in Bangalore. Toward the end of the month, I could finish the first draft of a chapter entitled “Didymus Judas Thomas in the Gospel of Thomas.” In the process, I attempted to connect the Johannine exegesis on Thomas with his characterization in the Gospel of Thomas. One of the highlights during the month was my meeting with Fr. Dr. Lucien Legrand, Professor of New Testament at St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary, Bangalore, who had something important to contribute toward my research project. My family was with me during the first 15 days of my stay in the Guest House provided to us (called Bhakth Singh). I thank my colleagues, Dr. Akumla Longkumer and Dr. Thongkhosei Haokip, for their cordial friendship as they served as fellow-CSAR Scholars. Toward the end of the month, I had an opportunity to present an overview of my research project to the fellow-CSAR Scholars at the CEO Centre, SAIACS, Bangalore.

June 2016: In June, I could finish a first draft of my chapter on “Didymus Judas Thomas in the Book of Thomas the Contender.” As usual, I used the library facilities in SAIACS conveniently. I visited the libraries of The United Theological College, Bangalore, Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kottayam, Union Biblical Seminary, Papel Seminary, and Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, all in Pune. Moreover, I visited some of the churches in Bangalore and addressed my research questions to the believing communities. Some of the highlights of the month were my meeting with scholars like Dr. Joseph G. Muthuraj (Professor of New Testament, UTC, Bangalore), Rev. Dr. Mani Chacko (General Secretary of the Bible Society of India), and many others who have something to contribute toward my research project. Special thanks to Rev. Dr. Mani Chacko and Rev. Subramani Subbu for the opportunity to preach at the Bible Society of India, Halls Road, and discuss my research topic with many there.

July 2016: In June, I finished a considerable amount of my work on the chapter entitled “Didymus Judas Thomas in the Acts of Thomas.” Meanwhile, I was invited to share my ideas about Didymus Judas Thomas during the Community Worship services of Southern Asia Bible College/Center for Global Leadership Development, New Life Theological College (Nava Jeeva Ashram), and South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS), all in Bangalore. I also shared my ideas about Thomas during my interactions with individuals and congregations on multifarious occasions in Bangalore and beyond. Some of the highlights of the month was my meeting with scholars like Dr. Stephanie L. Black, visiting faculty at SAIACS, and many others who encouraged me with their thoughts in order to improve my research project.

August 2016: In August, I finished a chapter entitled “Didymus Judas Thomas in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.” I used the library facilities at SAIACS conveniently. Explored the opportunity to interact with Johannine scholar Dr. Cornelis Bennema and discussed with him about the character of Thomas. He provided me with extended knowledge about the methodological issues related to the topic. I was privileged to share my ideas in the form of a research paper entitled “Didymus Judas Thomas in the Gospel of Thomas” during the Doktorklub held in SAIACS. Moreover, I have volunteered to teach the subject “The Person and Work of Jesus” in Rhema Bible College and then engaged in my research project at The Orthodox Theological Seminary, The Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, and The St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, all in Kottayam. I had several opportunities of personal interactions with church historians and usage of library resources in different theological institutions in Kerala. The church historians like Fr. Dr. T.I. Abraham, Fr. Dr. Jose John, and Fr. Dr. Baby Varghese of Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kottayam, were kind enough to discuss with me from their expertise on Thomas. Fr. Dr. James Puliurumpil of St. Thomas Apostolic (Catholic) Seminary, Vadavathoor, Kottayam, discussed with me his knowledge about the person of Thomas and shared his books entitled “History of the Syro-Malabar Church,” “St. Thomas in India: Patristic Evidences,” and “Classic India: Western Accounts before Christ.” These are some of the most useful resources toward the last chapter of my project. My visit to Dharmaram Vidhya Kshetram in Bangalore enabled me to use their library and discuss the topic with Fr. Dr. Saju Chackalackal, Fr. Dr. Francis Thonippara, and Fr. Dr. Joy Philip Kakkanattu. Among them, Fr. Dr. Francis Thonippara gave me a broader overview of scholarly resources related to Thomas.

September 2016: In September, I was revising and realigning various parts of my work to make a final shape. I had privileges of interacting with Dr. Ebenezer D. Dasan about the coming of Thomas in the Gujarat provinces. He provided me with extended knowledge about the Thomasine presence in the North Indian context. Moreover, I shared my ideas about Thomas in my interactions with individuals and with congregations on varied occasions in Bangalore and beyond. I had good times of personal interactions with resource persons like Dr. Peter S. C. Pothan, Dr. Ashokan Bhaskaran, Dr. David Udayakumar, Dr. M. Deivanayagam, Dr. John Arun Kumar, and many others both in Bangalore and in Chennai. They helped me to develop my understanding of resources in the field of Thomas studies. My visits to institutions like Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute (Kilpauk) and “Trust for the Unification of World Religions through Soulology of Tamils” (Ayanavaram), and places like St. Thomas Mount (Periya Malai), Little Mount (Chinna Malai), and Santhome (Mylapore), all in Chennai, helped me to gather further information concerning St. Thomas. As I was heading up toward the completion of my CSAR Fellowship, most of the sessions of the CSAR Advanced Writers’ Workshop (26th till 30th September) helped me further as I am in the process of finalizing the manuscript. Thanks to all the resource persons and participants for their inputs in my life.

My five months in SAIACS were some of the excellent days spent on research, scholarship, and friendship. I owe thanks to many people: Dr. Iain Payne (Principal), Mr. Yesan Sellan (Chief Librarian; Co-ordinator of CSAR program), Mr. Jonathan Rajan (Administrator), and Mr. Tej Paul (Finance Manager) for their supports for my life and exposure in SAIACS and in Bangalore. I thank all the faculty members of SAIACS especially Dr. Idicheria Ninan, Dr. Roji T. George, Dr. William Subash, Dr. John Arun Kumar, and all others for their inputs and help for the smooth development of my research. I thank Dr. Evan Hunter (SLI) and Dr. Nancy Arnison (TBN) for all the supports rendered toward me. Special thanks to Dr. Evan Hunter for the encouragements and inputs during our one-on-one discussions in Atlanta (Georgia), Pasadena (California), and Bangalore, and also his critical comments during our Skype chats. Friends like Rev. Charlie E. George, Rev. Sam George, Rev. Thomas Chacko, Rev. Aniyan Joy Mangalath, Rev. Noble Mathew, and others extended their friendship and encouragements all through the period. I appreciate the student body of SAIACS (also some of the alumni) for their repeated questions concerning my project and continuous inspiration as I was part of the community. I thank the administration, colleagues, and students of The Union Biblical Seminary (UBS) for their helps and motivation toward my writing project. Last but not least, I thank my wife Shyni, daughter Jemimah, and son Jeremiah, for their sacrifice during the span of my writing. Above all, Jesus, My Lord and my God, was my motivation and strength right from the beginning of my academic and ministerial pursuit.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, PhD., Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

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