Published April 2013
The Rev. Dr. Christopher Duraisingh, an eminent South Indian theologian, is known worldwide for his teaching, research and leadership in promoting the multicultural nature of God.
He credits his Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) Fellowship for the academic path he has taken and the international recognition he has received.
“Without the Episcopal Church Foundation fellowship I would not have developed my academic and personal commitment to dialogue, comparative theology and my ecumenical interests,” Duraisingh said. “It opened up a whole international career for me.”
Duraisingh is the Otis Charles Visiting Professor in Applied Theology and faculty emeritus at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His teaching at EDS focuses on church and social movements, inter-contextual hermeneutics, relationships among peoples of major world religions for the promotion of justice and peace, a transformative reconstruction of the symbols of Christian faith and the nature of a mission-shaped church.
His accomplishments are many. A graduate of the University of Madras, Duraisingh has a BD from the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts; an MTh from the Senate of Serampore, India; a ThD from Harvard University; and a DD from Queen’s University, Canada. He has been a professor of theology at the United Theological College, Bangalore, and served as the General Secretary of Council for World Mission, London, and both as the Director of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism and the Executive Secretary for Gospel and Cultures of the World Council of Churches. He was the editor of the International Review of Mission for eight years.
The ECF fellowship, awarded to him for his doctoral studies at Harvard from 1974–78, came at a critical juncture of his life. Duraisingh had been admitted to other doctorate programs in the United States and had been offered substantial financial aid, but he wanted to attend Harvard University with its Center for the Study of World Religions, and to study with its director, John Carman, and Gordon Kaufman, another well-known theologian.
“The fellowship was a timely meeting of an acute feeling of a need,” Duraisingh said. “I was the first non-U.S. citizen to receive a fellowship. It simply would not have been possible for me to even think about coming to this place, to Harvard Divinity School. Not only was I a non-U.S. citizen, I was a non-Episcopalian, although the Church of South India was in full communion with the Episcopal Church. It was something unique.”
Also at that time, Duraisingh had two small children, ages three and seven.
“I could not take out a loan in this country and my wife was not able to work (because she was unable to get a work permit). With the fellowship, I was able to bring my family with me and finish the degree without taking out a loan. It provided financial freedom, and it was the place of my choice.”
Duraisingh said the fellowship opened doors for him.
“Because I had the fellowship and was at Harvard, I came to be known to the Anglican Communion. I was asked in 1978 to give four devotional addresses at the Lambeth Conference, and that was while I was still a student at Harvard. The impact of the fellowship on my life and my studies—in India, in the global church and in the United States—it has been fairly significant.”
Duraisingh’s many publications include “Contextual and Catholic: Conditions for Cross-Cultural Hermeneutics” in the Fall 2000 Anglican Theological Review; “Encountering Difference in a Plural World: A Pentecost Paradigm for Mission,”inWaging Reconciliation: God’s Mission in a Time of Globalization and Crisis, Church Publishing, 2002; and more recently “From Church-Shaped Mission to Mission-Shaped Church” in the Winter 2010 Anglican Theological Review.
Duraisingh is just one of many scholars and ministry leaders throughout the Episcopal Church who have received not only financial support but also help from ECF in sharing their knowledge, experience and best practices with the wider Church in practical ways.
In Duraisingh’s case, he went from the doctorate program funded by ECF not only to theological teaching but also extended leadership positions in international ecumenical institutions.
“In a broad sense, I could say that the Episcopal Church Foundation had a significant impact on the church in India and abroad,” he said.
Supporting transformational leaders at critical points in their ministry, scholarship and teaching is a primary goal for the Fellowship Partners program. To learn more about how ECF Fellows have been changing the church for generations, check out the list of fellows since 1964, where you’ll recognize the names of many leaders.