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Gita study to be mandatory at Seton Hall University

By George Joseph in New York
Last updated on: November 21, 2008 02:22 IST
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The study of the Bhagvad Gita has become mandatory for every student joining Seton Hall University in New Jersey from this year. Seton Hall is an independent, Catholic university under the Archdiocese of Newark founded in 1856.

"This is unique," said A D Amar, professor, Stillman School of Business, the driving force behind the decision. "Nowhere there is a university-wide core program. The colleges decide on the core courses and generally oppose the university imposing core courses. But Seton hall decided that all its students should learn the core courses."

One-third of Seton Hall's more than 10,800 students are non-Christian. Many non-Catholics also study there. It has a significant number of Indian students. The core course is for all students, whatever the discipline.

"Seton Hall wanted to establish its identity by differentiation from other universities, and decided to develop its own brand of university-wide core curriculum," Amar said.

For its 'signature' education, in 2001, the university formed a Core Curriculum Committee under the Faculty Senate's authority. In 2006, Amar became a member of the Committee when they were drafting the content of the core courses.

The university wanted a transformational course that will influence the character and life of its students. So it wanted a course that seek answers to perennial questions like the purpose of life, why are we here, where are we going, etc, as part of the course.

Titled 'The Journey of Transformation,' the course is taken during the freshman year and 'seeks to forge a community of conversation inspired to explore perennial questions central but not exclusive to the Catholic intellectual tradition.'

Amar told the Committee that the Bible teaches only one way and that students should learn from older philosophies too. He suggested the inclusion of the Vedas and the Gita.

"The faculty consists of Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, in addition to Christians. Suggestions came to include the Koran also," Amar said. "Finally, studying the Bible-- the Gospels, specifically -- the Bhagvad Gita, and Dante's The Divine Comedy were made part of the core course. The Committee found the Vedas too difficult to understand. I was surprised at the openness of these people, and the greatness of the Catholic community was evident," he said.

In addition to these three subjects, individual instructors may add other material. Freshmen study it in the first semester, and it is a three-credit course.

The translation of the Bhagvad Gita by Stephen Mitchell is the text. The faculty teaches it with additional training. None of the teachers is Hindu. As a business professor, Amar is not teaching it but helps others to learn it.

The pilot course was started last year and students love it, he said. The second interdisciplinary signature course, 'Christianity and Culture in Dialogue', is more social science-oriented, drawing on readings from Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche in addition to the writings of the Second Vatican Council.

The third and final signature course, taken in a student's junior year, is intended to expand on the themes of the first two courses, but in a discipline-specific setting.

Amar arrived in the United States as a foreign student from India in 1972. He taught at Montclair State University for some time. He has been a professor at Seton Hall since 1983. He has published over 70 works in journals and periodicals and also published books. He also serves as the faculty advisor for the Seton Hall Indian Students Association. He also contested in the Republican primary from the 7th Congressional District.

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