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Dr. Cornelius Returns To UND

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In 1925, the Founder's Day convocation at UND featured a lecture by Dr. J.J. Cornelius titled “The Religions of India.” The lecture was sponsored by Wesley College, which began as a Methodist school in Wahpeton in 1891 under the original name Red River Valley University. Twenty years later, in 1905, at the invitation of UND president Merrifield, it relocated next to UND in Grand Forks and was renamed Wesley College.

Founder's Day occurs on the third Thursday of February, but as the Dakota Student newspaper reported, Dr. Cornelius would be speaking twice more, on March 4th and 5th. His themes would be the “Social Ideals of India” and “Gandhi and his Message.”

Dr. Cornelius was a Christian from India, an economist, a former professor at Lucknow University in Bombay, a prominent member of the Congress Party in India, and a close associate of Mohandas Gandhi.

He was also a fierce critic of imperialism.

According to the Dakota Student newspaper, he presented Gandhi as, quoting the paper, a “great man, who struggled for a peaceful emancipation of his people … one who desires to unite religion and politics so that there may be peace and goodwill ... Ghandi is not opposed to western civilization, according to Professor Cornelius, but he is opposed to what he calls exploitation of the weak by the strong. Dr. Cornelius gave child labor as an example.”

It wasn't surprising that such themes were sponsored by the Methodist college, for it was known for its eclecticism. Indeed, auditors from the Methodist Church would later criticize the college for that trait.

According to the student newspaper, Dr. Cornelius's lecture “The Religions of India" had claimed a superiority of the Hindu system of philosophy saying it was built upon years of "thinking up ways and means to benefit the soul." The paper went on to say he argued that there were practically no wars in India, and that everyone there believes in being satisfied with what he has, though India's history of sectarian violence would indicate otherwise.

The paper said Dr. Cornelius concluded by arguing America needed to combine the philosophy of India with its intense scientific interests if it expected to continue as a great nation.

Hindu philosophy has indeed crept into American culture ... the hippies of the '60s, Americanized yoga, and we even see it in the Addams Family TV show and movies. What would Dr. Cornelius think of that?

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel

View the references for this Dakota Datebook here.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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