Francis Clooney Named New Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School

January 15, 2010
Francis X. Clooney
HDS professor and CSWR director Francis X. Clooney, S.J. / Photo: Justin Knight

Francis X. Clooney, S.J., has been appointed the next director of the Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR) at Harvard Divinity School, beginning July 1, 2010. He will succeed Donald K. Swearer, who is retiring at the end of June after six years at HDS as the CSWR director and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies.

Clooney joined the HDS faculty in 2005, as the Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology, after teaching at Boston College since 1984. He served as acting director of the CSWR during the 2008 spring term and began a long and active relationship with the Center before coming to HDS, participating in many CSWR programs and events.

"Francis Clooney is arguably the world's leading scholar of comparative theology," said Dean William A. Graham in announcing the appointment. "We are fortunate to have him taking on the leadership of the CSWR, and knowing we will have him as successor may make it somewhat less traumatic to say farewell to Donald Swearer."

Clooney's primary areas of scholarship are theological commentarial writings in the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions of Hindu India, and the developing field of comparative theology, a discipline distinguished by attentiveness to the dynamics of theological learning deepened through the study of traditions other than one's own.

"It is an honor, a wonderful possibility, and a great challenge, to become director of the CSWR as it moves forward in its second 50 years," Clooney said. "Our world is becoming interreligious in unprecedented and vital ways, and there are many important ideas and insights emerging among living religious communities and in theological and religious studies today."

The CSWR will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year on April 15 and 16 with a two-day symposium focused on the future of the study of religion with particular reference to the distinctive role of the CSWR at HDS, Harvard, and beyond.

Clooney's current projects include an exercise in dramatic theology, the reading of Bernard of Clairvaux's sermons on the Song of Songs along with a medieval Hindu commentary on the love songs in Satakopan's Tiruvaymoli. He has written on the Jesuit missionary tradition of scholarship, particularly in India, and also the dynamics of dialogue in the contemporary world. He is on numerous editorial boards; was the first president of the International Society for Hindu-Christian Studies; and, from 1998 to 2004, was coordinator for interreligious dialogue for the Society of Jesus in the United States.

He is the author of numerous articles and books, including most recently Beyond Compare: St. Francis and Sri Vedanta Desika on Loving Surrender to God (Georgetown University Press, 2008), and The Truth, the Way, the Life: Christian Commentary on the Three Holy Mantras of the Srivaisnava Hindus (Peeters Publishing, 2008). Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders, his new and insightful introduction to the field of comparative theology, will be published later this spring by Wiley-Blackwell. 

"The Center, within HDS and as part of the wider University, is very well positioned to recognize and foster some of the best initiatives by which students and faculty will engage the interreligious possibilities of our twenty-first century," Clooney said. "It is a particular pleasure to become director after Donald Swearer, under whose wise leadership the Center has flourished and grown in so many ways. I look forward to working with the Center staff and with CSWR's many old and new friends in continuing this great tradition."

—by Jonathan Beasley