Shaunaka Rishi Das

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Shaunaka Rishi Das
Board Of Governor's Dinner 2010
Born 18 February 1961
Alma mater St Peter's College, Wexford
Home town Wexford
Title Director, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
Term 1997 - present
Religion Hinduism
Denomination Gaudiya Vaishnavism
Spouse(s) Keshava Kiernan 1958-2013

Shaunaka Rishi Das (born 18 February 1961) is the Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS), a position he has held since the Centre's foundation in 1997.[1] He is a Hindu cleric, a lecturer,[2] a broadcaster, and Hindu Chaplain to Oxford University.[3] His interests include education, comparative theology, communication, and leadership. [4] He is a member of The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, convened in 2013 by the Woolf Institute, Cambridge. [5] In 2013 the Indian government appointed him to sit on the International Advisory Council of the Auroville Foundation.[6] Keshava, Rishi Das's wife of 27 years, died in December 2013.[7]


As Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies he maintains the vision and ethos of the OCHS and encourages the Centre’s continued growth and development in all spheres.[8] In this role he oversaw the formal recognition of the OCHS by Oxford University in 2006,[9] and developed the Centre's publishing partnerships with Oxford University Press, Journal of Hindu Studies, and with the Routledge Hindu Studies Series.[10][11] He has also been responsible for forging formal relationships between the OCHS and Universities in the USA, Europe, India, and China.[12] He is the first Hindu Chaplain to Oxford University in its 800-year history.[13]

Media and broadcasting[edit]

He is a regular broadcaster, making the Hindu contribution to 'Prayer for the Day' on BBC Radio 4 since 2007.[14] He was also a participant in the popular History of the World in 100 Objects series broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and published by Allen Lane.[15][16] He has acted as a consultant for a number of documentaries on Hindu culture and traditions.[17][18] He has written articles for The Guardian[19] and The Independent newspapers, Business India,[20] and has written the Hindu entry for the Annual Register since 2004.[21]

Interfaith and theological dialogue[edit]

Shaunaka Rishi Das, by way of an invitation to the International Colloquium of Christians and Jews, was introduced to the world of inter-religious dialogue, in 1985, by the then Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Rabbi David Rosen.[22] From that time he developed a personal interest, and played an active part in such dialogue. He was an early member of the Northern Ireland Interfaith Forum, acting as its Chairman from 1998 to 2002.[23][24] From 2002 -2004 he was a trustee and executive member of The Interfaith Network UK,[25] and from 1998-2004 acted as a consultant to the International Interfaith Centre, Oxford.[26]

Rishi Das has been a pioneer in promoting interfaith and comparative theological dialogue in his own community. As the first Convenor of the ISKCON Interfaith Commission (1997–2010)[27] he led the consultation which resulted in the publication of ISKCON's Statement on Relating with People of Faith in God,[28][29] which has been translated into six languages, and forms part of the course curriculum at Bhaktivedanta College, Belgium.

This Interfaith statement was a significant step for ISKCON, addressing issues of integration in a global society, as well as laying out a clear theological basis for dialogue. It has also been recognised as a pioneering statement from any Hindu tradition, advocating informed engagement with others over presenting a position of policy to others.[30] Responses to the document noted its importance in addressing modern issues while keeping with the integrity of the ancient tradition.[31][32]

But we Christians may also recognise a new factor, namely that ISKCON is the first global Vaisnava movement that is just now coming to understand its vocation to enable Westerners to understand Indian philosophy and spirituality.[33]Rev. Kenneth Cracknell

He has also been responsible for facilitating various conferences, seminars, and symposia promoting Vaishnava-Christian dialogue at different levels.[34][35] He was instrumental, along with his colleagues, Anuttama Das, and Rukmini Devi Dasi in launching the annual Vaishnava-Christian conferences, held in Washington DC, since 1997.[36]

Personal faith[edit]

Born an Irish Catholic, and expressing an early interest in the priesthood,[37] Rishi Das joined a Hare Krishna ashram, in Dublin, in 1979. In 1982 he was given Brahmanical initiation - ordained as a priest - in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition.[38][39]

Inspired by biblical and philosophical reading, which began when he was fourteen, Rishi Das developed a broad interest in spirituality.[40] He said of this early period: love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our words and all our deeds, and love our neighbour as ourselves struck me as an instruction, as a plea, and actually, as a necessity. Considering how to do to that, how to forsake all and follow God out of love has provided me my greatest challenge in life.[41]

Joining a Hindu movement in the Ireland of his time did not feel like a courageous act for Rishi Das. Of his first encounters with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) he said:

They were speaking Christianity but not calling it that. I knew I had met the people I was to practice with. My desire was to be a Christian. I had to struggle with the fact that I found it being practised to the highest standard by non-Christians.[42]

To sample his spiritual thought in the form of prayer we can refer to one of his BBC Broadcasts:

Dear Lord, my desire is to serve you, and I offer what I think is best. Please let me know what You desire, and bless me with the grace to accept what you think is best.[43]

And for a touch of his well known humour:

Over the next few years as I tried the ‘lose-weight-without-any-change’ method, as I wore ever tighter clothes, and weighed myself to depression, I felt doomed. My lowest point was the day I weighed myself after a haircut.[44]


Shaunaka Rishi Das was Editor-in-Chief of the ISKCON Communications Journal, from 1993 until 2006, and was Chairman of ISKCON Communications Europe from 1991-2003.[45][46] He served as an executive member of ISKCON's Ministry of Educational Development from 1996-2010,[47] was a founding member of the ISKCON Studies Institute, is a trustee of Bhaktivedanta College in Belgium, and is Editor-in-Chief of the ISKCON Studies Journal.[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Banerjee, Akanksha (Sun, 13 Aug 2006). "Oxford gets a Hindu flavour". CNN-IBN. Retrieved 2 February 2010
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Academy for Leadership
  5. ^ Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, National Consultation, Cambridge, June 2014
  6. ^ News & Notes, a weekly bulletin for the residents of Auroville, No. 521, 2 November 2013
  7. ^ "Staff declared woman dead prematurely," The Oxford Times,15 November 2014
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ OCHS, Brochure, 2008, Oxford
  13. ^ White, Malini (23 August 2013). "An Unusual Spokesman". The Hindu. Retrieved 14 December 2013. 
  14. ^ - 12 March 2007
  15. ^ A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neil MacGregor, Allen Lane, 2010, London
  16. ^
  17. ^ Eat, Pray, Light, Tuesday 2 November 2010, 11.20-11.55pm BBC ONE
  18. ^ The Hidden Story of Jesus, Broadcast UK - Channel 4 - 2007
  19. ^ -Saturday,1 July 2006
  20. ^, S. R. (2009). The Rig Veda and credit crunch. Business India, 826 (15 Nov), 110-111.
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Memories of a life less ordinary". Wexford People. 8 April 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2010
  23. ^ Dwyer, Graham; Richard J. Cole (2007). The Hare Krishna movement: forty years of chant and change. I.B.Tauris. pp. 247. ISBN 1-84511-407-8.
  24. ^ "Exhibition celebrates NI’s religious diversity" 11 October 2001. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  25. ^ Retrieved 2 February 2010
  26. ^ International Interfaith Centre
  27. ^
  28. ^ Rishi Das, ISKCON Communications Journal, ISKCON in Relation to People of Faith in God, Vol.7, No.1, 1999, Oxford
  29. ^ Edwin F Bryant & Maria Ekstrand The Hare Krishna movement: the postcharismatic fate of a religious transplant, 2004 Columbia university press p409
  30. ^ Burkett, Delbert (ed). The Blackwell Companion to Jesus. Blackwell Publishing, 2011. Page 261. Blackwell Reference Online. 8 February 2011>
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ Cracknell Kenneth, ISKCON and Interfaith Dialogue,ISKCON Communications Journal, Vol 8, No 1 June 2000
  34. ^ Cracknell Kenneth The Nature of the Self a Vaishnava-Christian Conference, Conference Report, World faiths encounter: Issues 13-18, World Congress of Faiths, 1996
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ Coleman, Simon; Peter Jeffrey Collins (2004). Religion, identity and change: perspectives on global transformations. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 1. ISBN 0-7546-0450-0.
  38. ^ Family Blog by Shaunaka Rishi Das -
  39. ^ "Memories of a life less ordinary". Wexford People. 8 April 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2010
  40. ^ "Memories of a life less ordinary". Wexford People. 8 April 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2010
  41. ^
  42. ^ "Memories of a life less ordinary". Wexford People. 8 April 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2010
  43. ^ Rishi Das, BBC Radio 4, Prayer for the Day, broadcast, October 22nd, 2009
  44. ^ Rishi Das, BBC Radio 4, Prayer for the Day, broadcast on October 23rd, 2009
  45. ^ Rothstein, Mikael (1994). "TM og ISKCON i historisk perspektiv". Indiske religioner i Danmark (Museum Tusculanum Press) 21: 136. ISSN 0108-4453. 
  46. ^ Bergeron, Richard; Bertrand Ouellet. Croyances et sociétés: communications présentées au dixième colloque international sur les nouveaux mouvements religieux, Montréal, août 1996. Les Editions Fides. p. 331. ISBN 2-7621-1990-1. 
  47. ^
  48. ^ "Windsor 2009 - Delegate Biographies: Shaunaka Rishi Das" (PDF). Windsor 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Maurice Ryan, "Another Ireland", Stranmillis College, Belfast, 1996.
  • "Memories of a life less ordinary". The Wexford People, Wexford, 8 April 2009.

External links[edit]