Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. I’ve been here in southern Australia for two and a half weeks already. This is the southern hemisphere; it is winter, though the temperature is in the high ‘50s each day; it is new to see different stars in the night sky, and the sun moving across the northern sky by day. And yes, the water does swirl down the drain counterclockwise. Melbourne is a “walkable” city, and the museums and galleries are very fine. So there is a lot to do even before one contemplates traveling outside the city. Haven't seen one kangaroo or koala yet. The most exotic thing thus far is "Australian Rules Football," a fascinating world unto itself.
I am here at Visiting Research Scholar at the Australian Catholic University, and beneficiary thus far of the wonderful hospitality of the staff of the university, the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, and of its Center for Interreligious Dialogue. Dean Anne Hunt and Dr. Anita Ray have been superb hosts. There is also a Jesuit Theological College near the campus of Melbourne University, where Jesuits from all over Asia come for their studies, and I’ve been to visit the community there several times already. (Last night I attended the book release for Fr. Gerald O’Collins’ new book, A Midlife Journey, volume one of his autobiography, reaching only to the 1970s. Gerry taught at the Gregorian for nearly 40 years, and his life encapsulates the Church in these decades. We are all eagerly awaiting volume two, which brings the story up to the present time, and includes all the dramas of the past few decades.)
Soon after I arrived I attended the Australia Catholic Theological Association annual meeting, and will give a lecture at the Australasian Sanskrit Association meeting in Sydney this weekend. In Sydney and here, there are also smaller events, such as a workshop on comparative theology in each city. I was a guest this past weekend at a Hindu Ashram outside the city, the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga at Mount Eliza, where Swami Shankarananda and everyone there were most gracious and welcoming, and I enjoyed a very good exchange that was both spiritual and intellectually nourishing. I am also trying to balance getting my own writing down —several essays, two book chapters, etc., at the moment, before returning in early August to get back to finishing my book on the Song of Songs and the Hindu Tiruvaymoli. And then it will be the new academic year again.
So this is just an incredibly interesting and busy summer break, and this may be why I have no great insights into my experience here. Perhaps I am just still getting used to the benefits of being far from the USA and Cambridge and Harvard, in touch by email, but not in the office every day. It is good sometimes to be far away. Perhaps too, it is salutary simply to visit Australia for the first time, a part of the world with a long and interesting history, and to see here a Church and a Catholic university that are very diverse and yet, perhaps because Catholics form a relatively small community in a relatively small population in a vast country, also more unified and compact. The challenges are in a way recognizable: unity and diversity, conservative and progressive, institution and individual spiritual paths in tension with one another, a sense of Catholic identity that is yet being tested in a culture both very religiously diverse and yet more secular than the USA.
More later – this is really just to greet my readers, and let you know where I’ve been these past weeks.