Address at St. Stephen's College, Delhi, India
February 3, 2014
It is a special pleasure and honor to be with you today. It is my first visit to India, this dynamic land of historic peoples and cultural riches. In the two days I spent here, I got my first glimpse of this land, the world’s largest democracy. I had the chance to observe one of the world’s great nations that is destined to become one of its most influential.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to drive to Agra and visit the architectural wonder of the Taj Mahal. It was a reminder for me of the vast heritage of India and its great cultural and religious traditions. I have just come from Rome, where I had the chance to see the breath-taking beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica, the elegance of Bernini’s colonnade that embraces Vatican square and the frescos of Michelangelo and Raphael. Though far distant in place and culture and of different religious traditions, these two spiritual and religious places of worship and architectural wonders speak to what is common in the human spirit. Though there are many obvious differences among peoples and cultures, one cannot but sense a deeper commonality.
I am delighted today to be here at St. Stephen’s College, one of the great educational institutions of India. In the 1870s, Bishop Douglas of Bombay asked that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge send out men of high scholarship who would live in a religious community and work amongst the educated classes of India. His idea was carried into effect by members of Cambridge University and in 1881, university classes were begun and St. Stephen's College came into existence. Since that time, the college has flourished. To the superb education you receive in the classroom, St. Stephen’s adds a strong residential life, active student clubs, an extensive athletic program and a sense of being part of a campus community. Stephanians of several generations have distinguished themselves in politics, the arts, business and many other fields.
The similarities with my university, Notre Dame, are many. We were founded by French missionaries to the new land of America in 1842. Instruction was in English, the college flourished in America, and the pronunciation of the French Notre Dame soon became Americanized. In addition to academic distinction, we have a strong residential life, many active student clubs, an extensive athletic program with celebrated residential life, many active student clubs, an extensive athletic program with celebrated teams and a deep sense of being part of a community that includes current students as well as alumni. Our signature building is crowned with a golden dome, and graduates of Notre Dame call themselves “Domers”, and Domers have distinguished themselves in many fields over the history of the university.
Just as with cultures, so between our institutions, half a world away from one another, and despite differences of culture and history, there is a deeper commonality. Today I want to reflect with you briefly on commonalities between in the approach to education at St. Stephen’s and Notre Dame. I think what we hold in common is profound and profoundly important for our world today.
An Ambitious Mission: St. Stephen’s and Notre Dame
Inspired by its religious tradition, St. Stephen’s proclaims that it “aims at helping its members realize spiritual and moral as well as intellectual and aesthetic values.”
Notre Dame, in its mission statement, says: “The University prides itself on being an environment of teaching and learning that fosters the development in its students of those disciplined habits of mind, body, and spirit that characterize educated, skilled, and free human beings. . . . [It] seeks to cultivate in its students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings but also a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.”
Education is, from its Latin root, a “leading out”. It is a journey undertaken with guides, our teachers. For St. Stephen’s and Notre Dame students alike taking this journey involves the acquisition of knowledge and skills in several disciplines, and for both these excellent institutions this instruction goes on at the very highest level. Yet this is not all, for this journey demands also the appreciation of values and acquisition of virtues that enable a person to act well with the knowledge she or he has acquired.
Fr. Basil Moreau, who inspired Notre Dame’s founder, said that “education if the art of bringing a young person to completeness”. Gandi Ji—a great Indian—also embraced this richer ideal of education well. "By education,” he said, “I mean an all-round drawing of the best in child and man in body, mind and spirit."
There is a long tradition of liberal education that has shaped the curriculum of institutions like St. Stephen’s and Notre Dame. Such an education was called “liberal” because it was designed to make its students free. It saw the enemies of freedom not only external constraints, such as political oppression or economic limitation. But also—and perhaps primarily—they were internal. The enemies of freedom were ignorance, or dominance by a need to gratify desires, or to be overly influenced by anger or fear. A truly liberal education freed us from the enemies without and the enemies within.
It is worth pausing here to reflect on how remarkably ambitious such an educational program is. It is by no means an easy thing to teach math, or chemistry, or grammar. Yet with discipline, time and effort by both teachers and students, the success rate is promising. Yet to educate a person in a way that includes values, that frees her or him from internal and external demons, to try to make them truly free—that is boldly ambitious. Yet it is the mission of St. Stephen’s and Notre Dame.
We live today in a globalized world, and we work in a globalized economic system. Both the U.S. and India compete in this global economy. We must acknowledge that the spread of the free market and the rise of the global economy has brought many people around the world out of grinding poverty. There is much to appreciate in the globalization of the free market and the economic vitality that it brings.
In the midst of this pervasiveness of the global economy and the spread of the market, there is danger and a challenge for us. Muhammad Yunis, the winner of the Nobel Prize in 2006, pointed this challenge out in his Nobel Lecture. He said:
"Capitalism centers on the free market. It is claimed that the freer the market, the better is the result of capitalism in solving the questions of what, how, and for whom. It is also claimed that the individual search for personal gains brings collective optimal result.
I am in favor of strengthening the freedom of the market. At the same time, I am very unhappy about the conceptual restrictions imposed on the players in the market. This originates from the assumption that the entrepreneurs are one-dimensional human beings, who are dedicated to one mission in their business lives—to maximize profit. This interpretation of capitalism insulates the entrepreneurs from all political, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental dimensions of their lives. This was done perhaps as a reasonable simplification, but it stripped away the very essentials of human life." (Nobel Lecture, December 10, 2006)
The free market has been a great benefit. Its extension has lifted millions out of poverty and given them opportunities of which their ancestors would not have dreamed. It has also been a catalyst for forging extensive connections between peoples and cultures that is unprecedented in human history. It is a contributing factor to my being here with you, and to the immanent signing of an agreement of cooperation between St. Stephen’s and the University of Notre Dame.
Economic globalization, however, brings with it the danger, as Muhammad Yunus says, of encouraging a one-dimensional understanding of human life and well-being. We can be led to belief that our individual good is achieved simply through material success and our collective social good is achieved solely through greater economic prosperity. Yet to the extent we become convinced of this one-dimensional view of ourselves and society, we lose much of what is most valuable in our human life.
We lose a sense of the spiritual transcendence in which, as the great religions of the world teach, true human happiness consists.
In our quest for economic development, the environment can become a mere means to that end and will be further degraded.
We become for one another simply competitors for limited goods, and we fail to retain a sense of solidarity and compassion that makes true society possible.
Pope Francis last July took a trip to an island in the Mediterranean where migrants from Africa seeking a better life in Europe are held. The previous week a boatload had died when their boat capsized just miles from shore. Italian fishermen could not rescue them. The Pope bemoaned the fact that, along with a globalized economy, a globalization of indifference seems to have replaced genuine solidarity and compassion for our fellow women and men.
However successful our striving for prosperity, a failure to recognize and act on a broader range of values will impoverish our lives individually and collectively. It will lead to a globalization of indifference. By becoming richer, we will be poorer as human beings.
How do we save ourselves from becoming one-dimensional in this way? I know of no way other than by striving to become better, more fully human people who recognize and act on values beyond economic advantage. And I know of no more important means for this than educational institutions such as St. Stephen’s and Notre Dame. For our respective institutions proclaim an ideal that education is more than technical expertise. It is also about the recognition of moral and spiritual values, and about acquiring virtues that will enable us to act on those values.
It is, of course, critical that our institutions remain committed to the highest level of academic excellence. Whether it is philosophy or history, mathematics or physics, we must provide instruction that enables our students to excel in these disciplines. A poorly trained physician or economist, regardless of her or his high-minded intentions, will not do much good in the world. St. Stephen’s has distinguished itself in the quality of its instruction, and the remarkable accomplishments of its graduates reflect the quality of the training they received here.
We must never allow the pursuit of academic excellence, however, blind us to the other kinds of excellence that are required to live a rich life and do good in the world. The same scientific expertise can be used to make bombs that create terror, or to provide energy for peoples’ needs. The same acumen in business can be used to exploit those who are poor, or to give them new opportunities. The same expertise in politics can be used for demagoguery or public service. How we use the training we have been fortunate to acquire depends on the kind of people we are and what we value. We must then seek moral excellence. We must become excellent human beings.
Neither St. Stephen’s nor Notre Dame can guarantee moral excellence in its graduates. That depends on many factors, and ultimately on the freedom of choice of individuals. Yet they can strive to provide an educational environment that encourages the pursuit of such moral excellence, and opportunities for its students to cultivate it.
Students of St. Stephen’s, now is a critical time in your life. What you learn at St. Stephen’s will shape the person you will be. An important part of that is what you learn in your classes, but that is not the only place you learn. You learn by reflecting on what is important in your life, and acting on it. In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus said: “As you sow, so also will you reap.” Sow well at this time so there will be a worthwhile harvest for your future.
Perhaps the father of this great nation said it best, Mahatma Ghandi, when he talked about the acquisition of moral and spiritual values:
"Seven Deadly Sins
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Knowledge without character
Politics without principle
Commerce without morality
Worship without sacrifice."
"Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny."