Professor Kenneth Cracknell, Friend of ISKCON and Champion of Religious Pluralism, Passes Away
Professor Kenneth Cracknell speaks at Harvard University’s Center for the Study of World Religions during the 2016 conference, “The Worldwide Krishna Movement: Half a Century of Growth, Impact, and Challenge.”
It is with great sadness that we report that Reverend Dr. Kenneth R. Cracknell, a Methodist Christian scholar, theologian, professor, and friend of ISKCON passed away on October 26, 2022.
Kenneth was a was a British specialist in interfaith dialogue and the Christian theology of religions. His career included pioneering the interfaith relations work of the British Council of Churches, teaching at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and at Brite Divinity School, Texas, from where he retired in 2007 as Distinguished Professor of Theology and Global Studies.
Appointed the first head of Interfaith Relations for the British Council of Churches in 1978, Dr. Cracknell traveled around the world facilitating conversations and collaborative work between religious groups, some that had histories of animosity toward one another.
Professor Cracknell is seen at the far left in this group photo taken during the 2016 conference at Harvard University.
Among his many books and articles are “Justice, Courtesy and Love: Theologians and Missionaries Encountering World Religions, 1846-1914,” Epworth, 1995; “In Good and Generous Faith–Christian Response to Religious Pluralism,” Peterborough: Epworth, 2005; and “An Introduction to World Methodism,” Cambridge University Press, 2005, co-authored with his wife, Dr. Susan J. White.
Dr. Cracknell first spent time with Hare Krishna devotees in 1987, when he met
Shaunaka Rishi dasa, who was then ISKCON Ireland’s Public Relations Officer. Shaunaka invited Kenneth to visit the ISKCON temple on Inis Rath, a small island in Ireland. Staying for a week, Cracknell both learned of the history and depth of Gaudiya
Vaishnava teachings, yet challenged ISKCON, and Shaunaka, to move out of its isolationist tendencies and enter more firmly into the world of interfaith dialogue and exchange.
Shaunaka Rishi: “Kenneth was my mentor, my guru in interfaith. He was thoughtful, compassionate, bright, sensitive, and kind in all his dealings. A gentleman, a scholar, and a devotee. He did so much to help other devotees, in Europe and the US, that Krishna, also being kind, is no doubt, offering him more service and love—and always will.”
Dr. Cracknell’s first article written for ISKCON was published in the June 1996 (Volume 4) of the ISKCON Communications Journal (ICJ), entitled “The Four Principles of Interfaith Dialogue and the Future Of Religion.” Therein he described:
“My involvement with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness stems first of all from dealing with issues of religious freedom. Some proposals being put before the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1984 were designed to limit the powers of so-called sects and new religious movements to make and keep converts in Western Europe. These proposals, clearly inspired by the anti-cult movement, were so half-baked as to be ludicrous…..As a servant of the British Council of Churches at that time, I wrote a position document for our Executive Committee. The church leaders who composed that Executive saw immediately the threat to religious freedom…and supported the stand I was about to take. Thus I became the friend of all new religious movements whose only offence was to want to proclaim their message and to gather communities of believers.” (To read the full article go to https://www.iskconcommunications.org/iskcon-journal/vol-4/the-four-principles)
In Volume 8 of the ICJ, June 2002, Dr. Cracknell wrote of his growing appreciation for the contributions of ISKCON, and its bhakti tradition: “Could it really be that our best partners in Christian-Hindu dialogue are those of the bhakti traditions? Could we not, from our Christian point of view, deem it as providential that Srila Prabhupada so brilliantly preached among Westerners? Might we not say that God has, through this man’s teaching, raised up a new generation of interpreters of bhakti devotionalism? Could this not even be a new kairos, or turning point, in the long and chequered history of Christian-Hindu relations?” he wrote.
Kenneth and his wife, Susan White, herself a professor emerita of Brite Divinity School where she taught worship and spirituality, participated as senior scholars and faith leaders in several of the annual meetings of the Vaishnava-Christian Dialogue in Washington, D.C. There Kenneth spoke of Protestant writers in India who first met Vaishnava sadhus and appreciated their devotional commitment and realizations; as well as urging participants to benefit with open hearts from each other’s theological insights.
In his later years, Kenneth and Susan both retired from university teaching and moved to Vermont, USA, where they established Sutton Books, an online book selling company that housed, as of 2022, 40,000 titles. There, in the small village of Norwich, Vermont, Kenneth and Susan hosted ISKCON’s Communications Director, Anuttama dasa, and his wife Rukmini devi dasi, for several days each summer.
Kenneth was a gracious and godly man,” said Rukmini devi dasi. “It was a delight to hear him speak. He told me that his first profound experience of religious diversity was when he went to Africa as a young missionary to bring God to the African people, but instead discovered that ‘God was already there at work;’ he was amazed at the sophisticated theological understandings the local people held. That experience, he explained, changed the trajectory of his life,” said Rukmini.
The last academic conference that Professor Cracknell attended was “The Worldwide Krishna Movement: Half a Century of Growth, Impact, and Challenge,” held at the Harvard University’s Center for Study of World Religions in 2016. The conference marked the 50th Anniversary of ISKCON and was hosted by one of the world’s preeminent forums for religious study and dialogue. In an interview during the conference with film maker Krishna lila devi dasi, of Karuna Productions, the good professor spoke of his appreciation for ISKCON, and the contributions of Srila Prabhupada. To watch that interview and learn more about the deep affection of this important scholar held for ISKCON, devotees of Krishna, and interfaith dialogue in general, go to https://www.iskconcommunications.org/resources/photos-gallery/videos-gallery