An Advocate for Nonviolence in Sri Lanka
“My education comes from experience,” Stephen Arulampalam pointed out in an interview, referring to Sri Lanka’s prolonged civil war and the violence, displacement, and imprisonment that he and family members experienced during those years of conflict. Given that background, perhaps it is not surprising that his interests as a theologian and ordained minister have focused on bridging the differences between Sri Lankans of Christian and Hindu faith traditions. “Theological education helps us to understand the nature of Christ’s actions in our own context,” he said, and in his theological studies, he has searched for a relevant Christology for Sri Lanka’s post-war context.
In 2014, the United Board’s Institute for Advanced Study in Asian Cultures and Theologies (IASACT) gave Rev. Arulampalam time and space to pursue his research interests in Christology. Christology is concerned with the life and work of Jesus, and as Rev. Arulampalam writes, “how the divine and human related in his person.” Rev. Arulampalam was interested in connecting Christology to Ahimsai, the principle of nonviolence toward all living things, found in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions. Nonviolence is a theme that connects many pieces in Rev. Arulampalam’s career, from his current positions as lecturer in church history and chaplain at the Theological College of Lanka, to earlier work in facilitating conflict resolution seminars for Tamil and Sinhalese youth and training laypersons in dealing with post-war trauma, to scholarly writing on topics such as reconciliation and non-violent approaches toward peace.
At IASACT, Rev. Arulampalam shared his experiences in Sri Lanka and heard the viewpoints of scholars from other Asian countries. “I was particularly interested in two presentations,” he recalled. “One presentation was about how caste discrimination creates tension in India, especially in Tamil Nadu. Another presentation examined the struggle between Christians and Buddhists in Myanmar and the important role of interfaith dialogue.” Those presentations, as well as others, helped him connect his research, centered on Sri Lanka, to broader discussions on conflict resolution. “Different languages, different experiences, different cultures, different foods, different ways of entertainment – they all really helped me to understand the multi-faith and cultural heritage of Asia.”
“The love, help, and hospitality received from participants is remarkable,” Rev. Arulampalam said. Four years later, still energized by his 2014 IASACT experience, he carries that same spirit as he studies ways to increase understanding between Christian and Hindu communities in Sri Lanka.