Vidyajyoti College of Theology
|Rector||Fr.Michael T Raj SJ|
|Affiliations||Congregation for Catholic Education (Rome)|
Vidyajyoti College of Theology (literally, ‘Light of Knowledge’), Delhi, India, is an institute and faculty of theology run by the Jesuits. It was started in 1879 in Asansol, West Bengal, as a modest 'Saint Joseph’s Seminary'. From 1889 to 1971 it developed in the mountains of Kurseong, near Darjeeling, where it was renamed Saint Mary’s College. From 1972 onwards it has flourished in the neighbourhood of the University of Delhi.
Vidyajyoti confers the Degrees of Bachelor of Theology, Master of Theology and Doctor of Theology. It also admits students for certificate courses for one or two years and diploma courses for three years.
Vidyajyoti is known for its efforts to develop a contextual method of doing theology. As integral part of its curriculum, each student is assigned to a concrete social context and initiated into socio-cultural analysis of the Indian situation. This enables the student to get a more competent and comprehensive grasp of the issues that affect the lives of ordinary Indians. Theological reflection is thus closely related to questions emerging from the context, thereby equipping each student to understand the Christian faith from within the Indian context and in dialogue with India’s many religions.
Vidyajyoti College of Theology is one of the oldest institutions of learning run by the Jesuits in India. It started in Asansol (West Bengal) in 1881, as a house for training in philosophy and theology for expatriate young European missionaries that at that time volunteered for service in India (among whom was the apostle of Chotanagpur, Constant Lievens) and came to the country without having yet done the years of study required for the priesthood.
In 1889, the Seminary, as it was then called, was transferred to hills of the Himalayas, in Kurseong (Darjeeling District), about 1800 metres above sea level, where for 82 years grew into an important centre of research and teaching of Indian religions and Christian theology, open to Indian and foreign Jesuits working in South Asia.
In 1932, the Holy See recognized it as a Faculty of Theology directly under its Congregation for Education, authorized to offer degrees of Licentiate and Doctorate in theology recognized in the Catholic Church.
In 1972, the St Mary's College, as it was then called, was transferred to Delhi where it took the name of Vidyajyoti College. It also opened its doors to any duly qualified students interested in the subjects it offers. As a result of a restructuring of its academic programme from 1978 the College opened extension centres in various parts of the country aimed at greater integration with the various cultures of India and at eventually teaching and studying theology in our rich local languages. At present, the faculty has five such extension centres in Chennai, Patna, Ranchi, Shantiniketan (West-Bengal) and Varanasi. Students do part of their courses in these centres and complete them in the national centre in Delhi.
Vidyajyoti is more than an academic institution. It is a way of life designed to form men and women dedicated to the service of others by letting the inner Divine Light shine through them. Many, though not all, of its students prepare for the priesthood. The personal growth in enlightened religious attitudes of bhakti and jñāna are central to the aims of the institution. The main prerequisite is therefore a deep religious faith and a desire for contact with the Divine. But faith needs to be enlightened by objective and valid knowledge. Yet, neither true bhakti nor jñāna will be authentic if they do not emerge from a life of commitment to the good of others, without karma.
The Faculty aims at: personal religious and human growth of its members research and publication in the areas of religion, religious history, theology, Indian traditions, sociology of religion, and allied subjects teaching courses of theology at the levels of B.Th. and M.Th. and at doctoral research fostering and participating in ecumenical discourse and interreligious dialogue being involved in movements of the people aiming at their liberation from the clutches of poverty, oppression and marginalization.
Vidyajyoti College has a residential faculty consisting largely of Jesuits coming from all parts of India and from diverse cultural backgrounds. This diversity is enriched with the presence and support of ‘visiting lecturers’.
The Faculty is governed by the Academic Council, which consists of: (a) All Professors, Readers, Lecturers and Tutors who are permanent members of the Staff; (b) The Rector of Vidyajyoti; (c) The Registrar; (d) Associate and Visiting teachers during their stay at the centre; (e) Three representatives of the B.Th. students as well as one representative of the postgraduate students for matters especially concerning the order of studies and other matters affecting the academic life and interests of the students. If there is no woman representative among those elected, the Principal in consultation with Executive Council will nominate one. The students of each Regional Centre elect one representative. The Treasurer, Administrator and Librarian, unless they are otherwise members of the Council, may be called whenever found opportune.
Some people are puzzled by the word theology although it is quite a traditional word. Literally it means the study or understanding of God. It is true that by its transcendence the Divine is beyond the scope of human rational study. There are other roads to contact the Mystery at the root of all existence. Religions have somehow given testimony to it. The study of religions and of other ways in which the concept and the reality of the Divine has impacted in human history forms the specific field of the study of theology. It includes the study of the great Scriptures, and the way in which the respective communities have understood their message. For Christians the Bible is primary but not exclude other Scriptures. There is also the study of religious history of humanity and of our own community and of the many expressions for the Divine found in history.
Theology is necessary if religion wants to avoid the pitfalls of irrationality and narrow fundamentalism. It is important to study our own faiths by using the gifts of reason and understanding, and the sense of the higher values, which nature, or rather God, has given us. Theology is not a rationalization of religion or of faith. Rather it helps faith be truly human, flourish and be fruitful within the complexities of life.
The aim of Vidyajyoti is to do contextual theology. This means that the understanding of God and of the knowledge of God which our faith has given us takes into account the rich historical culture in which we find ourselves and is articulated in ways that make sense within this context. This has been in the past and continues to be the specific theological focus of Vidyajyoti, so much so that already in 1905 it started in Kurseong an ‘Indian Academy’ to facilitate the study of Indian religions at a time when colonialism was still the dominant culture.
Vidyajyoti currently has 305 students on its rolls studying at its college in Delhi and its RTCs (regional theology centres). The students are university graduates or postgraduates belonging to some 70 religious congregations, dioceses, secular institutes and lay associations from every part of India and abroad. Although most of the students belong to the Indian subcontinent, there are a few from abroad, as well. While the medium of education is English, Hindi is mostly used for fieldwork.
Vidyajyoti seeks to nourish in its students a vibrant spirituality to sustain its theology and praxis. The spiritual life of students is nurtured through regular religious exercises and sacramental life (daily Eucharist, weekly adoration, monthly recollection, yearly retreat, special preparations for diaconate and so on). A Jesuit counselor — assisted by some staff-members with training in psycho-spirituality — provides spiritual guidance. The staff and students also organize and actively participate in various other spiritual, pastoral and ecumenical programmes in and around Delhi.
The diversity among Vidyajyoti’s students is representative of the diversity in India itself. The students speak some twenty languages and bring their cultural treasures to expression during the yearly festivals that are celebrated. Besides the national festivals of India that are celebrated with appropriate liturgy, three major cultural festivals are celebrated. These are (a) Karam, which is a tribal festival celebrated by the Chotanagpur adivasis (aboriginals), (b) Onam a harvest festival celebrated by the people of Kerala in south India, and (c) Pongal the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu, south India. At these occasions, through creative use of the media, dance, drama, music and other means, the students highlight the meaning of these feasts, their theological relevance and their impact in the lives or ordinary people. Other cultural activities include an annual cultural programme held in the college and in Tihar Jail where the students work, as well as occasional skits and debates on themes of theological interest.
Besides the extracurricular activities of the college, Vidyajyoti’s students offer Extension Services to other academic institutions in Delhi and elsewhere. Groups of students offer their services for conducting self-awareness, personality development, faith formation and social awareness seminars and weekends for students of other colleges and schools. Seminars are also conducted for teachers in various schools and colleges so as to improve teacher-student relationships. The Vidyajyoti students also network with socially committed groups in organizing interfaith initiatives, highlighting social problems and dialoguing on religio-social concerns that affect life in India.
Fieldwork is an integral part of the Vidyajyoti curriculum. Every student is required to opt for and be committed to some form of fieldwork since the faculty considers guided socio-pastoral involvement as an essential dimension of doing contextual theology. Each student is put into direct contact with a specific community, especially the marginalized ones to gain direct experience of the negativities of life and the suffering of the poor. This context then becomes a locus theologicus — a site for a deepening reflection on the Christian faith and other faiths, as well.
Apart from these regular ministries, orientation programs and spiritual guidance in various schools and parishes are also conducted in and around Delhi for teachers, students and youth. Students are also involved in SAMAG (Social and Media Action Group) that creates awareness among the students of Vidyajyoti on issues of injustice, violation of human rights, exploitation of women, decisions that affect the Dalits, tribals and children. SAMAG also takes initiative to organize and collaborate with other NGOs and agencies fighting for the rights of the oppressed and marginalized in the form of dharna and protests.
Regular pastoral reflection sessions in the College are intended to integrate theology with the experience of the students in their fieldwork and vice versa. In this way, the students are trained to cultivate a deeply human and Christian perspective of life that calls for committed responds to the signs of the times.
For their pastoral and social ministries the students visit those in prison (Tihal Jail), in hospitals and homes run by the Missionaries of Charity. They organize activities and tuitions for slum, railway stations and neighbourhood children (Bal mela). Some are involved in organizing religious services in Delhi parishes and give guidances to spiritual and youth groups (Small Christian communities, Youth catholic associations, etc.). They help also marginal groups into organizing themselves into self-help units: domestic workers from the tribal areas, rickshaw pullers (Asha ki kiran), etc.
The library holds nearly 130,000 volumes and has more than 300 reviews. Most of the library has been computerized and the students have access to three points of entry into the computer and to the stacks of the library. The library is particularly rich in the fields of Biblical studies, systematic and pastoral theology, spirituality, Hinduism and Indian culture and Islamics.
The library has a few hundreds of ancient publications, some of them from the 16th to the 19th century. Its oldest book was printed in 1514, a Latin commentary on the Book of Sentences of Peter Lombard, which was almost a kind of text book of theology in the 16th century university of Paris. The library has also a precious manuscript of a Tamil-French dictionary composed in the 18th century, one of the earliest monuments of Tamil lexicography.
From 2005 we have started the process of digitalising some rare and ancient books and manuscripts in Vidyajyoti Library as a collaborative venture with the EurIndia Project of Preservation of Rare Books to make these rich resources available to scholars through internet facilities. The Hosten Collections are also in the process of being digitalised.
Theological research being one of the aims of the Vidyajyoti faculty, it endeavours to publish the results of the research of its teachers and students.
Some of Vidyajyoti’s publications are: Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Research, Ave, Vachan Sudha and Tattvaviveka.
The Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Research [VJTR], a monthly journal, reaches nearly 4000 subscribers all over the world, including most theological colleges of English-speaking countries. It covers areas of Christian theology and service, inter-religious dialogue, Indian theology, social concerns, and trends significant for religion in the modern times. The Journal was started in 1938 with the title The Clergy Monthly. In 1975 it assumed the present title. It opens its pages to scholars from all over India that want to publish in the areas of concern for the journal.