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Season for Interfaith-Intercultural Celebration

9-Week Self Study Program

Week FOUR: Service towards Human Rights and Social Justice

Interview Dialogues
Discussion Questions
Preparation & Background

Related Global Manifesto
Further Reading/ Links



K. L. Seshagiri Rao on Service from the Perspective of Hinduism
Author of many books, including Mahatma Gandhi and Comparative Religion, Seshagiri is the Editor-in-Chief of the recently released Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A veteran of the interfaith movement, he serves as co-editor of Interreligious Insight: a Journal of Dialogue and Engagement.


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Dr. Paul Knitter on Intercultural Engagement for Social Justice
Professor Emeritus of Theology, Xavier University, Cincinnatti, Ohio (USA). Author of No Other Name?, and One Earth Many Religions, and other books. Member of the Board of Directors of CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador).


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1. What do you see as the most important practical and spiritual implications of service to others and the Earth community?

2. How can insight into the Hindu tradition deepen one’s understanding of practical and spiritual service?





It has been suggested that Hinduism is not so much a single religion as it is an umbrella under which the religious beliefs and practices of innumerable sects flourish. In any case, the vast majority of the people of India regard themselves as Hindus. Arising initially as a synthesis of indigenous religion and the religion brought to India c.1500 bce by the Aryan peoples from the north, Hinduism developed in syncretism with the religious and cultural movements of the Indian subcontinent. Hindu culture and belief is generally characterized by the caste system and the acceptance of the Vedas as sacred scripture. These texts, which comprise the liturgy and interpretation of sacrificial ritual, culminate in the Upanishads, mystical and speculative works that set forth the doctrine of Brahman, the absolute reality or Self, and its identity with the individual soul, or atman. The goal of Hinduism, like that of many other Eastern religions, is liberation from the cycle of rebirth and the suffering brought about by one's own actions. This can be effected through a variety of yogas, spiritual practices leading to knowledge of reality and union with ultimate reality. Many modern Hindu leaders have stressed the necessity of uniting spiritual life with social concerns. Traditionally, Hinduism has celebrated the multiplicity of paths to the ultimate with the words: “Truth is one, but the sages know it by many names.”

Excellence: The richest expression of the infinite divine: one God with countless faces, emphases, and dimensions. Many paths come together here, from blissful meditation, to lifelong study, to devotion to God, to selfless service. "Truth is One, but the sages know it by many names."
Story: The Master-Disciple relationship
Ritual Pattern: Puja (ceremony of blessing, homage, worship)
Ethic: Duty (dharma)



The Sikhs are a religious community of some 16 million worldwide, centered on northern India, mainly in the Punjab. Sikhism’s founder, the mystic teacher Guru Nanak (c.1469-c.1539), taught monotheism and opposed idolatry and the caste system. He believed in the fundamental identity of all religions and stressed religious exercises and the regular practice of meditation. Gradually uniting and developing military power under a series of gurus, the Sikhs were inspired in defense of their homeland by Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the tenth and last guru, who created a spiritual warrior fraternity and introduced the Sikh male practices of wearing a turban and sword and never cutting the hair. Sikhism professes the belief in One God—Eternal Truth (if God is to be named); immanent reality, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, unfearing, bearing enmity or hatred towards none; without an image; beyond human comprehension but realized through His Creation and Grace to those who seek Him.

Excellence: The exaltation of truth, social justice, and service to all in need
Story: The lives and teaching of the ten Gurus
Ritual Pattern: Reading the holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib
Ethic: Selfless service, piety, and truthful living

Theme: Intercultural Engagement for Social Justice

How can human societies most effectively address some of the most critical issues of our time: social and economic justice and universal human rights? What does it mean to affirm that certain things must never be done to any person and that certain other things must be done for every person? Paul Knitter, one of the greatest modern voices for religious pluralism and a veteran of the long struggle for global justice, will address that question and many others. We’ll draw on his experience and insight as we explore the vital importance of interreligious and intercultural engagement in that effort.

The UN’s “Millennium Development Goals, promulgated in 2000, stress the importance of global partnership and global citizenship if we are to build the better world in which social and economic justice are normative, rather than exceptional. We’ll also examine the essential role of cross-religious harmony in the nurturing of genuine cross-cultural mutuality.

Excerpt from Thriving in the Crosscurrent: Clarity and Hope at a Time of Cultural Sea Change (Jim Kenney, Quest Books 2010), p. 119:

The modern period, arguably the bloodiest in human history, gave rise to genocidal totalitarianism and violent fundamentalism, yet it had another, far-better side. The rise of democracies around the world (although some were, to be sure, virtual shams) will long be regarded as one of modernity’s most important contributions. At the same time, all over the world, even marginally educated people know far more today about the great challenges faced by the human community as a whole. We have, as a consequence of globalization, arrived at a point where more people on the planet know more about other peoples and cultures than ever before. To think of oneself as a “citizen of the world” has certainly become easier.


Links & Media:

LINK: Quotes from the World's Religions on Service
LINK: Video Meditation on Service



The UN Millennium Declaration and Development Goals: (2000: social justice, gender equity, global partnership)



Paul Knitter on religion as a force for “subverting hatred and greed”

The United Nations' Millenium Development Goals

The Nature of Hinduism by K. L. Seshagiri Rao