In a pre-COVID universe, Rohan Abraham might’ve traveled from his home country to Dallas to attend Perkins School of Theology. This year, however, he began his studies from his home in Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai) in India.
That means attending class in the middle of the night – usually between 1 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. in his time zone – but so far, it’s working. Abraham says it helps that he’s nocturnal by nature.
“Some would say a conversation about God isn’t odd at any hour of the day,” he said. “On more stress-filled days, home-brewed coffee helps quite a bit!”
The first-year Th.M. student is pursuing a concentration in Systematic Theology. A member of the Methodist Church of India, Abraham hopes to teach at a seminary and serve the church by training future leaders.
“I am intrigued by almost anything cerebral, and as a consequence, there isn’t a shortage of interesting things I would pour myself into,” he said. “However, I am interested in postmodernity as a social phenomenon and postmodernism as an intellectual deliberation on postmodernity, modernity, and its inter-connections with spirituality and religion. This has me gravitating heavily towards postmodern theology and postmodern thinkers.”
Abraham learned about Perkins through his teacher, Dr. Abraham Varghese Kunnuthara, who encouraged him to consider studying in seminaries outside of India for his Bachelor of Divinity. After looking into Perkins’ mission statement, faculty, curriculum, and scholarship opportunities, he chose Perkins for graduate study, and feels confident he made the right choice.
“There is a quiet and stimulating balance between spirituality, critical thinking, and social engagement, which has been refreshingly inspirational in my Perkins journey so far,” he said. “I especially love the expertise, maturity, and creativity the teachers have, and their spirituality in many ways has been contagious.”
Abraham plans to begin taking in-person classes on campus next fall. Like many students during the pandemic, his participation in extracurricular activities has been necessarily limited, but he attends chapel services when he can.
Monastic spirituality is another area of special interest. The Confessions of Saint Augustine and Thomas Merton’s reflections on his spirituality have both provided ongoing spiritual nourishment.
“I tend to return to them and re-read portions of their writings to gain some devotional depth, especially when bogged down by the currents of life,” he said.
Abraham adds that he’s grateful to his family, and in particular, his father, who passed away shortly before classes began last fall, after battling debilitating kidney disease for seven years.
“His undying example and strength of will continue to fuel me, my purpose, and my sense of self,” he said.
Seminary study represents a bit of a detour from Abraham’s original career plans. Much of his life, he assumed he’d follow a career in IT or engineering. While enrolled in an undergraduate program in engineering, however, he entered a period of spiritual angst and searching. That was spurred, he said, by “an existential encounter with the crucifixion” inspired in part by songs by Michael Card, such as “Why?” and “Death of a Son.”
“I started seeking answers in Christianity that I had already found in Jesus, which made me go down the rabbit hole of atheism-theism debates and dispensational apologetics,” he said. He left the engineering program and eventually earned his undergraduate degree at Union Biblical Seminary, part of Serampore University.
“I realized my questions had questions of their own, and in my time in seminary, I was able to accrue much-needed profundity for my faith and my person,” he said. “I learned about newer avenues of theological thought and was able to deepen my faith and theological aptitude.”
Looking back on his decision to pivot from engineering to theology, Abraham recalls a stanza from another Michael Card song, “God’s Own Fool.”
So come lose your life for a carpenter’s son, for a madman who died for a dream. Then you’ll have the faith his first followers had, and you’ll feel the weight of the beam. Surrender the hunger to say you must know; have the courage to say I believe. For the power of paradox opens your eyes and blinds those who say they can see.
“This stanza suits my own journey into theology and my leap into faith, he said. “It is quite possible that in a parallel universe, I am a skilled and successful engineer. And that possibility brings me sadness because that other Rohan doesn’t know the mysterious nourishment I get in being a student of theology and a worker (albeit flawed) for Christ.”