As a team of Buddhist and Christian chaplains at Imperial we were really excited to hear Tom Beaudoin’s key-note talk at the Conference of European University Chaplains in the Netherlands last year.
Tom is Associate Professor of Religion at Fordham University. In his talk he was looking at life in a globalized world. He argued that there would be great advantages if we were all to learn to speak a second religious or secular language.
Language, as a metaphor for our worldview, suggests that we all have a religious or secular ‘first language’ for talking about how we see the world and what we believe, for example Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or atheism, humanism, agnosticism.
To learn a second ‘religious language’ does not mean giving up our first language, our ‘mother tongue’. In a world were we are constantly meeting people whose world view is very different from our own it is good to be able speak even a little of another language.
So, while Christianity is my first language, I can ‘speak’ a little Buddhism. I have learned this second language from working with colleagues, sharing silent meditation together and hearing about their traditions. I am not fluent and I am not a native speaker. But I know enough to be a good ‘house guest’ and (I hope!) to travel courteously with my second language. This way I learn more, and see a little from the Buddhist perspective.
The other gift of learning a new language is returning to our first language with new eyes, and a better ear for the language itself. I now have a better understanding of my mother tongue for having started learning a second language!