Acceptance remarks from honorees

Professor Brian Catling
Professor of Fine Art

I feel like a question has been asked, and the question is gravity. And the question of gravity has been asked of dharma. We are all here and we are all part of the same thing which controls and holds us together. Today feels very, very special. I am humbled by this and I am very, very grateful. Thank you for coming so far for us.

Professor Martin Kemp
Professor of the History of Art

Sri Chinmoy, as you have heard, I have written about Leonardo da Vinci. I have come across in my life one universal man, one uomo universale, and that is through writing, through paintings and through drawings. It is a privilege to have met another. Leonardo sought unity in diversity. He sought what brought together the branching of a tree, the blood vessels in our body, the flow of a river. He was seeking that unity. It is my conviction that artists and scientists in their own way have intuitions as to what lies behind things. These intuitions, I think, are fundamental, as is your work, Sir, in an age when the powerful nations are showing less and less inclination, through their leaders, to understand the culture of nations stranger and different from themselves and less powerful. It is an immensely important quest upon which you have embarked and which I hope you will continue for many years. It is a quest, I think, in the spirit of Leonardo and in the spirit of all those who seek unity in diversity. Thank you.

Professor Frances Stewart
Professor of Development Economics

My work, unfortunately, is about deteriorating conditions, about war in poor countries, about AIDS in poor countries, about rising poverty in many places, and about the failure of people in power to do much about it. And, indeed, they tend to do the opposite.
So I think the work of unity, of peace, is tremendously important, and I thank you for letting me participate.

Professor Colin Clarke
Professor of Geography

One of the first pieces of research work I did as a postdoctoral student was to work in Trinidad in the Caribbean, and one of the groups that I worked with for a greater part of the year was the Trinidad Hindu population. I learnt from them one very key idea that has really been a guiding point in my life — and I am sure it is something that will be utterly simple and straightforward for Sri Chinmoy, but was for me a great enlightenment — and that is that you get in life what you focus on. Clearly, this was in the context of religious teaching and I got it by reading the Bhagavad Gita, but I have also tried to apply that in a more secular sense here in the University. I am delighted to be at a University occasion here which also blends so many memories I have of my fieldwork with my Hindu colleagues in the Caribbean. Thank you very much, indeed.

Professor Avi Shlaim
Professor of International Relations

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here. To be quite frank, I could not think what I had done to deserve this honour. On the other hand, I readily identify with the aim of this programme of bringing people from different cultures together in a spirit of open minds and open hearts. Nowhere is this more necessary than in my original part of the world, the Middle East. The Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the most bitter, protracted and intractable conflicts of modern times. This conflict has affected my life. I was horn in Baghdad, I grew up in Israel, and I’ve lived most of my life in this country. I have dual nationality, Israeli and British, and I feel doubly guilty towards the Palestinians because of Britain’s betrayal of them and because of what the Israelis have been doing to them. The politicians do not offer us any vision or any hope or any way forward. The only hope for a resolution of this conflict is as you, Sir, suggest: people from different cultures coming together in the spirit of openness and tolerance and mutual respect. It is a very great honour for me to have been invited. Thank you very much for letting me participate in this very extraordinary event.

Dr. Peter Carey
Tutor in Modern History

As Professor Catling said, we have defied gravity, and on behalf of the East Timorese, who have defied the gravity of their political situation, I would like to thank you very much for honouring them.

Professor Robert Hedges
Professor of Archaeological Science

For me, this whole award came out of the blue, as it were, and I wondered what I had done to deserve it. But looking outwards, it is very good to see how contained in the actual ceremony is the sheer physicality of the gravitational experience, going right up to the spiritual meaning of the oneness of a heart. Thinking about how that can relate to the kind of work and study I do, one thing that I get strength from is my work, which is not economically terribly important — archaeology does not get easily funded in terms of making Britain rich in future trade. I think being able to link what humans did in the past and to do that by working across the whole range of human experience, particularly through science, does give some kind of unity to human experience and does give us our roots in a way that we can relate to quite strongly. In a curious sort of way, it does all seem to tie together, and I am very glad to be able to appreciate that. Thank you very much.

Professor John Kelly
Professor of English Language and Literature

I do a great deal of work on the poet Yeats and he, too, sought unity amid diversity. Sometimes he called it the anima mundi lying under our subconsciousness, sometimes the spiritus mundi. Both early and late in life, his thought in this direction was shaped by the wisdom of the East. And I know he would have been as proud to have met you as we have been and as moved by what you are doing in the ceremony this afternoon. Thank you on behalf of all of us.

Professor Peter Hainsworth
Professor of Italian

I do a great deal of work on literature which is concerned with crisis, modern crisis. But the literature in which I am most interested is one that looks back much further, literature that is concerned with the mediaeval past, particularly the work of Dante. Dante is concerned with the journey of someone from a dark wood to light — a journey which is of epic proportions in his poem. It is a journey which is a very important one that many of us can make, I think, if we read a poet like Dante or if we read Dante himself. It is a journey that I am sure Sri Chinmoy knows about and which coincides, I feel, very much with his work, which I appreciate very much. And I thank him for it.

Professor David Coleman
Professor of Demography

Like many others, I could not imagine what I had done to deserve this honour, but I am very moved by this uplifting experience and I thank you very much for it. It is a particularly auspicious occasion for me because June 26th happens to be my birthday! In my work in demography, which is a very small subject and so that is another reason for being particularly pleased with this recognition, we look forward in the coming century to moving — all of us, rich countries and poor ones — into a completely unknown new world: a new world of longer lives, a new world of smaller and smaller families, a new world possibly of shrinking populations, even shrinking world populations. In this new world, I hope my small subject will be of some use, and in this new world we will need all the inspiration and wisdom that we can get. Thank you.

Professor John Knight
Professor of Economics

I decided to devote my economic expertise to tackling some of the most important economic problems in the world — poverty, inequality, education and health problems in the poorest countries. But human development and human well-being are not just a matter of economics; they are also a matter of spirituality. If all the people in the world could hear your message and would accept your message, what a much better place it would be. I feel humbled and greatly honoured. Thank you.

Dr. Geeta Kingdon
Lecturer in African Economies

Because I work in the field of development, I feel that no true peace can he achieved without there being development and the eradication of extremes of wealth and poverty that exist. Perhaps what I do will ultimately, hopefully, contribute to the work of peace, the very important work of peace that you are doing. I feel very honoured to have been invited.

Professor Zhan Feng Cui
Professor of Chemical Engineering

I am a chemical engineer, and the chemical industry usually has a bad reputation for polluting the environment and making it dirty, etcetera. But actually, we are not just dirty and smelly! We are doing some useful things. A lot of my work is related to how to improve human health, medical engineering and the environment. But, through this enlightening experience, what I felt is that we scientists are quite often focused on our scientific research, on making progress and writing papers. Through this activity today, I think that the question to ask ourselves is why we are doing this and how our work can benefit the whole humankind. Thank you very much.

Professor Theo M. Van Lint
Professor of Armenian Studies

I think you are uniting us around a theme which has been touched upon several times — the unworthiness of the participants — of which I am another example! I am very grateful to be here and I think I am most of all very grateful for the possibility to express my gratitude to those in this world who have given me so much. One of the things I work on particularly is poetry. There is a line in Auden which I find puzzling and probably will find puzzling until the end of my days, which is “poetry makes nothing happen.” I do not believe it, but Auden said so, and he was a great poet. There lies a paradox. Today I lived in a metaphor for a few moments. You lifted me up and this made a metaphor come true — poetry became reality. I would like to thank you so much for your very poetic and very real work.

Professor Andrew Briggs
Professor of Materials

We are all grateful to you for including us today. I am a scientist and I am a Christian. I believe in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And here in Oxford there is a strong tradition of combining the study of the natural world with the study of the spiritual world. It goes right back to our first Chancellor, Robert Grosatest, in the 13th century.

It continued through the 17th century with the Christian virtuosi and, just two weeks ago here in Oxford, there was a meeting — a workshop for a day — which combined some of the top Theology Professors in the University and some of the top Professors of the Physical Sciences, studying the interface between the physical world and the spiritual world. It is a great pleasure to be able to participate in that kind of celebration this afternoon. Thank you.

Professor Philip Maini
Professor of Mathematical Biology

My family originates in India, in the Punjab, which most of you will know is an area of great religious strife, and for some reason they decided to move to Belfast. Maybe it made them feel at home! I grew up in a community which was full of religious strife and it was a very divisive community — and those two places continue to have their problems. It really is a truly uplifting experience to be in the presence of someone who believes very much in unity. I thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to come here.