null In the Spotlight: Rev. Dr Jose Nandhikkara

Rev. Dr. Jose Nandhikkara is a Catholic priest and member of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) religious congregation, Editor in Chief of the Journal of Dharma,  Professor of Philosophy at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram and Director of India. Below, Nefti Bempong-Ahun, Assistant Editor/Communications Assistant at in conversation with Rev. Dr Jose on his collaboration with, and how to infuse the secular with the sacred to improve religious literacy and enhance ethical consciousness.

NBA: We're really excited to hear fresh views and perspectives, and are grateful to have the opportunity to speak with you today. So I guess to start off, I would love to learn more about you and your background, and how it led you to India ?

JN: I'm a Catholic priest belonging to the first Indian indigenous congregation. I completed an undergraduate degree in Geology before perusing further studies in philosophy and theology in Bangalore. After the Priestly Ordination, I worked in Kenya as a missionary priest for a year, and then continued my pursuit in studying Philosophy. I had the opportunity to study in Rome, Oxford and Warwick, and obtained a PhD in Philosophy is from the University of Warwick. After this, I returned to India and started working at the Centre for the Study of World Religions and for the Journal of Dharma and Faculty of Philosophy. The previous Regional Director of India, Prof Saju Chackalackal is a close friend of mine and through him, I came into contact with the programmes. 

The Journal of Dharma is focused on philosophy and religion, but I also developed a keen interest on developing and facilitating dialogue. I felt that we needed more dialogue with the secular world and different academic settings. It was challenging mobilising other faculties to start thinking about ethics more. I remember approaching the Head of Physics about ethics, and he responded "What is there to talk about regarding ethics? We look for measurements". However, I believe that any project that includes humans should also include ethics and values. After going back and forth, we eventually started collaborating.

I consider myself an academic, and care deeply about religion and quality education. My area of interest really started to hone in on religious dialogue and ethics, and provided the perfect environment to explore the ethical interface further. The seminary provides training to young men to become priests, and a requirement of Catholic seminaries is to complete two years of education in philosophy before theology. This requirement was implemented, as we believe faith and reason are equally important; religion and secular academia are equally important and can learn a lot from one another. We see a lot of conferences focused on STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but I would argue that we need more STEAM – science, technology, ethics, arts and mathematics.

NBA: Fascinating to see you speak about ethics as a vehicle for facilitating dialogue and steering towards the common good. You mentioned the Journal of Dharma, could you tell us more about the development of the journal, its vision and aims?

JN:  The Journal of Dharma was launched in 1975, within the context of second Vatican council and their renewal of openness to other religions. Dharmaram is a combination of two Sanskrit words, 'dharma' (virtue) and 'aram' (garden), translating to the ‘Garden of Virtues'. The journal focused on philosophies and religions, and also introduced elements of the Indian psyche, attitudes and culture. But as I said earlier, the Journal of Dharma aimed to present a new openness, and now quarterly development of the journal includes humanity, science, philosophy and religion. The journal tapped into the need to have the secular infused with the sacred, to explore the sacred in the secular through dialogue and increase religious literacy for integration and harmony of life. has helped us to run international conferences, and we have published 6 volumes together. In our upcoming works, I would like to focus on knowledge societies and sustainable societies. Development needs knowledge, but is it not sustainable unless there is ethics. In the future, I would also like to collaborate more closely with other regional programmes to learn from and build on their experiences.

NBA: Thank you for sharing this rich religious history that's behind the Journal of Dharma, and has also contributed to its focus areas. Keeping on the track of publications, having contributed to a number of Publications, I wanted to ask more about your motivation for contributing to these publications and your experience with Publications as a whole?

JN: I definitely make use of the large Library, that is where I find and download new content to support my own learning. This drives me to give back via Publications. However, what I value most about the is my ability to connect with other institutions in higher education.  But to answer your question of why I do it, what motivates me? It's a vocation for me, a religious vocation.

As I said, I too am continuing my learning journey. An area, which I find fascinating, is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ethics. I believe that ethics should not be an afterthought, but should be considered at the beginning, ethics should be an integral part in the development of AI. When I think about AI, I also consider Gandhi's teachings, and consideration for the poorest of the poor. We should think more about how these developments will impact the most vulnerable. Ethics must focus on the most vulnerable populations and we should not clamour to human rights with ‘my freedom' and ‘my equality' in mind, but rather consider those who don't even have access to the most basic needs. We must also advocate on their behalf.

NBA: I'm glad to hear that is not only a place in which you add to the knowledge base as an academic, but that it also offers resources to support your personal learning journey. With that in mind, what would you say has been your biggest achievement or most impactful activity with India?

JN: The most valuable thing has been the people I was able to meet both in India and abroad, the Geneva team, people like yourself (Nefti), and especially Christopher, Obiora, Lucy, and Christine. We have also devloped the network of collaborations, led by our Programme Executive, Rajula who is doing a fantastic job facilitating the development of partnerships and collaborations. At India, we have also managed to attract a larger number of users to register and join the Network. Of course, we still encounter some challenges due to India being such a huge country, with many different languages and religions. With that in mind, I believe we could, and will continue to do a lot more.

NBA: Great, we look forward to all that is to come from India and your team! At the heart of , our aim and mission is really about integrating ethics in higher education. So my last question to you is, why does ethics in higher education matter and why does it matter to you personally?

JN: When considering my priestly vocation, I believe that what we do is interactive evangelisation, through greater humanisation via education, health and social projects. Secondly, my hope is to integrate ethics into many different focus areas and really go beyond higher education. Ethics promotes human right values, which has an impact in every sphere of our lives. An area I would love to explore more is ethical and religious literacy for public servants like the police force, healthcare professionals, and people in hospitality industries. As I said earlier, ‘if it's human, it's ethics'.

NBA: Thank you so much for answering our questions, for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us, as well as the ongoing collaboration with