Radical Monotheism of the Qur’an and Equitheism of the Bhagavata Purana: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Allah and Krishna

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Professor Carl Olson
Date: May 17, 2010
Time: 14:00 to 15:00

This narrowly focused essay proposes to compare the Islamic god Allah as depicted in the Qur’an with the Hindu deity Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana. This paper concentrates on how these two respective texts define the two deities. More precisely, this essay focuses on such issues as transcendence and immanence, creative power and play, obedience and love, and the relationship between God and humans. These various themes are examined from the perspective of comparative theology, which can be defined as an articulation of truths and a realization of a more complete knowledge of God in so far as it is possible by means of theology conceived broadly as inter-religious, comparative, dialogical, and confessional. This paper proposes to use a hermeneutical dialogue, which is an interpretative approach that is intended to lead to better cross-cultural understanding. Such a dialogue is risky because it entails entering the margins between oneself and the other. When the interpreter brings together the representative texts of different traditions, she forms a triadic relationship and dialogue with the context of a marginal situation.

Professor Carl Olson teaches Religious Studies at Allegheny College where he offers courses on Hinduism, Buddhism, Religions of China, Zen Buddhism, and comparative phenomena, such as the self and death. Besides over a hundred and eighty reviews and essays in journals, books and encyclopedias, he has published over a dozen books on such topics as the goddess, Mircea Eliade, methodology, comparative philosophy, the Indian renouncer, and the Indian holy man Ramakrishna. His more recent books include the following: Zen and the Art of Postmodern Philosophy: Two Paths of Liberation from Representational Mode of Thinking (SUNY Press, 2000); Indian Philosophers and Postmodern Thinkers: Dialogues on the Margins of Culture (Oxford University Press, 2002); The Different Paths of Buddhism: A Narrative-Historical Introduction (Rutgers University Press, 2005); Original Buddhist Sources: A Reader (Rutgers University Press, 2005); The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-Historical Introduction (Rutgers University Press, 2007); Hindu Primary Sources: A Sectarian Reader (Rutgers University Press, 2007); Celibacy and Religious Traditions (Oxford University Press, 2008), Historical Dictionary of Buddhism (Scarecrow Press, 2009), and Religious Studies: The Key Concepts (Routledge, forthcoming 2010). While at Allegheny College, Professor Olson has been appointed to the following honors and positions: Holder of the National Endowment for the Humanities Chair, 1991-1994; Holder of the Teacher-Scholar Chair in the Humanities, 2000-2003; Visiting Fellowship at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, 2002; and elected Life Member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge 2002.