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Gupta recounts papal meeting

  • Ravi GuptaWhen first asked to represent Hinduism as it is practiced in America during the 2008 visit to the United States by the Pope, Gupta thought the caller was playing a practical joke.

    Ravi Gupta
  • Ravi GuptaGupta said he chose to come to William and Mary due to the school's dual emphasis on research and teaching.

    Ravi Gupta
  • Ravi GuptaAt William and Mary, Gupta hopes to help students remove the veil of exoticism that often accompanies their understanding of Eastern religions.

    Ravi Gupta

When first invited to meet Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff's April visit to Washington, D.C., Ravi Gupta, a new assistant professor of religious studies at the College, thought a friend was playing a joke on him. After he discovered the offer did not constitute a prank, he became nervous. "What is the ritual?," he wondered. Finally, he tried to figure out what he would say. "I wanted to suggest that his visit could create paths of openness among religions that have much to offer each other," Gupta said.

The meeting went off smoothly. Gupta, who had been asked by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to represent the tradition of Hinduism in the United States during an evening ceremony, found the Pope to be both humble and accommodating. When interacting with Gupta and those of other faiths, "the Pope was accepting of whatever ritual was deemed appropriate," Gupta said.

Gupta, who is one of 28 tenured or tenure-eligible faculty members joining the College's ranks this year, arrives at William and Mary with proven teaching and research credentials. In addition, he brings with him a passion to help students prepare themselves to embrace a world of opportunities both at the university and beyond. Concerning his decision to leave Centre College in Kentucky, Gupta said, "I wanted a step up in career and quality of institution, but I especially liked the combined emphasis on teaching and research here. I put my heart into teaching. I wanted to go to a place that would value that."

The professor hopes to help students appreciate that religions apart from their own are not to be studied as exotic objects but as realities that are lived by people who are in many ways just like themselves. "I want to help them see where their own assumptions are. Sometimes we go through life not realizing how much we're made up of our culture, our surroundings," he explained.

Among the other members joining the College's faculty this year are:

Erik Han, assistant professor of history, who has conducted research on the Chinese minority in Japan;

Elena Prokhorava, assistant professor of modern languages and literatures, who has conducted research on both literature and cinema in the Soviet Union;

Brett Rushforth, assistant professor of history, whose research includes slavery among Native Americans in the Colonial period both in British and French North America;

Hannes Schniepp, assistant professor of applied science, who is conducting research in nanotechnology;

Tracey Sutton, assistant professor of marine science at VIMS, studies the econlogy of fishes from an ecosystem dynamics perspective;

Susan Webster, the Jane Williams Mahoney Professor of Art and Art History and American Studies, who has published books on Spanish baroque and colonial Latin American art history.