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Cyril Glyndwr Williams

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Reverend Dr. Emeritus Professor Cyril G.Williams was a leading figure in Welsh national life and a driving force,almost single- handedly, in the development of the academic discipline of Religious Studies in Wales. He was considered a leading authority on World Religions. He was a founder member of the Religious Studies wing of the Department of Theology, Religious Studies and Islamic Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter.(now known as The University of Wales Trinity St David’s ) Convinced that Christian theology could no longer continue to ignore the teachings of other religions, his vision for the study of religions was both global and deeply-rooted in his own Welsh identity and Non-conformist Christianity.

From a mining family in Pontiets in the Gwendraeth Valley, Williams gave 14 years of service as a Welsh Congregationalist (Yr Annibynwyr) minister at Tabernacle Pontycymer, at Radnor Walk, Chelsea,London, and Eglwys y Priordy in Carmarthen. His academic mentor was Professor Aubrey Johnson of Cardiff. His original doctoral research was later published under the title of "Tongues of the Spirit" in 1978, and remains a much-quoted study of the phenomenon of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. He was appointed lecturer in 1958 in the History of Religions at Cardiff University(then known as the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire) and later appointed as Reader.He served as a Professor of Religions at Carleton University, Ottawa 1968-1973. On his return to Wales he became Head of the fledgling Department of Religious Studies at University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he was given a personal chair, and in 1983 he and the Department moved to Lampeter to bring the study of non-Christian religions firmly onto the curriculum. It is largely a tribute to his vision that the Department at The University of Wales Trinity St.David's,Lampeter has a curriculum offering study of an unparalleled range of religious traditions, taught and researched by a team of academics hailing from all corners of the globe.

His work was more controversial than that of his colleague and friend, the late Professor Ninian Smart of Lancaster University and University of California, Santa Barbara.Not only did he seek a revolution in the academy, he also desired to open the eyes of the ordinary people of Wales, with whom he worshipped, to the wisdom of the world’s religious traditions. This inevitably brought him critics from the churches and chapels of Wales. However, his work in Welsh, "Crefyddau’r Dwyrain" (Eastern Religions)(1968), despite being more than five decades old, remains the most highly-regarded attempt to introduce Eastern religions to a Welsh-speaking audience. Williams learnt Sanskrit and in 1991 with the assistance of Dr.Nalini Devdas of Carleton University,Ottawa,his recognised ground-breaking translation of the Hindu sacred text The Bhagavad Gita, (Y Fendigaid Gân) became the first,and so far the only scripture of a non-Abrahamic faith to be translated in its entirety into Welsh. He was a prolific writer in both Welsh and English.

He was Honorary President of the British Association of the Study of Religions (then the British Association for the History of Religions) from 1985 -1988, and his professional contribution to religious studies was again recognised by BASR making him an honorary life member in 2003. He was also honoured with a D.D. by the University of Wales in 1993.

His work was not confined to the universities. Along with many key cultural figures of the time, he was a fervent supporter of the Welsh language, and was a committed advocate of Welsh-medium education.He was instrumental in establishing the first Welsh primary school in Carmarthen called Ysgol Pentrepoeth (now known as Ysgol y Dderwen). He was a broadcaster and a regular contributor to radio in Wales, a regular preacher, and a patriotic rugby supporter.

Those who knew Professor Williams as a minister, teacher and colleague, knew him as a gentle, softly-spoken, contemplative man of a poetic disposition, whose demeanour belied both his struggles and his lasting achievements.

Early Life

Williams was the youngest of nine children born to David and Hannah Williams in 1921 at Frogmore,Pontiets,Llanelli.His father David was a coal miner and saved many lives in an explosion at a local colliery.Some of his elder brothers were agnostic but one brother, Griff, was a Pentecostal who spoke in tongues.Williams as a boy attended Nazareth Chapel with his father but preferred attending Elim Pentecostal Church as this was more lively.His father and Williams returned to worship in Nazareth Chapel as the services were in Welsh since his father could not follow the English sermons at Elim.Williams attended Ysgol Gwynfryn Pontiets and then Gwendraeth Grammar School (known locally as Ysgol Cwmawr).Williams’primary interest was to study Astronomy and he was keen on unanswerable subjects.He started preaching at the age of 15 and many of his colleagues at school would tease him.He also played rugby football and was Captain of the school's team.In order to be admitted to Presbyterian College in Carmarthen he had to study Greek and Scripture Knowledge in addition to his chosen subjects of Chemistry, Physics and Maths. Williams was twice offered a place at Oxford but the family could ill-afford the finance of sending their youngest to a faraway University.The puritan ethic in his family was strong but it was only his father who encouraged him to further studies as "work" to the family only meant physical work. He attended the theological college at Carmarthen and then went on to Cardiff University and studied Hebrew with Honours.He gained a B.A from Cardiff and returned to the Presbyterian College in Carmarthen to complete his B.D. degree.He was influenced by the teachings of Karl Barth but saw that Brunner was more compassionate as he was more prepared to see the truth outside the specialised revelation in the Gospels and in Christ.

The Ministry

In 1945 Williams was ordained at Tabernacle Chapel in Pontycymer in the Vale of Ogwr and then he went on to Radnor Walk,Chelsea in London.In 1951 he moved to Priordy Chapel in Carmarthen.In 1956 he met with Martin Niemöller,the German pastor on tour in Wales. In 1958 when he entered into academic life,he remained preaching for a number of years and whilst living in Cardiff he looked after Bethlehem, Splott Cardiff and preached regularly in Ontario ,Canada,Ohio USA, and in the Tregaron and Lampeter areas in West Wales.He preached at Ffald-y-Brenin near Lampeter from where Timothy Richard,an early Christian missionary to China hailed.Williams also admired Griffith John, another Christian missionary to China,from Llangyfelach near Swansea.As a minister Williams felt that his kind of Christianity had not been fulfilled.Williams saw that God's endless love was interwoven in Christ.He thought that Christian salvation should be a reaction to this.He wanted a partnership,a kind of koinonia. Williams not only preached in England and Wales but also in South Korea and in India.He also lectured at the Buddhist Centre in Tokyo,Japan.He greatly admired Mahatma Gandhi and he believed that the greatest Christian alive today who followed Jesus's teachings was the Dalai Lama.

Academic

His mentor Professor Aubrey Johnson invited him to join the Semantic Languages at Cardiff University in 1958 as lecturer to teach the History of Religions.He also completed his M.A. on the research on the Hebrew prophets whilst at Cardiff.He was later appointed a Reader before moving to Carleton University in Ottawa,Canada.In 1968 he was appointed visiting Professor but the following year appointed Professor of Religion and Chairman of the Department (1969-1973).He completed his Ph.D on glossolalia in 1979 and his thesis “Tongues of the Spirit” was later published.He was invited to join the faculty at Kings College,London but returned to the University College of Wales,Aberystwyth in 1973 and was awarded a personal chair in 1983.From 1981 to 1983 he was Dean of the joint Aberystwyth/Lampeter School of Theology and Dean of Theology for the University of Wales.The Department in Aberystwyth moved to the St David’s College Lampeter (now known as The University of Wales Trinity St David’s ) and remained here (1983-1988) until his retirement.He was President of the British of Association for the History of Religions and was appointed as Emeritus Professor in 1988.The University of Wales,School of Theology awarded Williams a D.D.In 1993 he was made an Honorary Fellow at Cardiff University and at Trinity College,Carmarthen.

Religious Interpretation

Williams was a committed Christian.His authority was the person himself =Christ- who died on the cross.He believed that the Biblical word was not exclusively “the word” but that the truth was within the word.He questioned some aspects of the Bible entirely.For example in the Old Testament, God saves the Jews but drowns the Egyptians.If,he said, you were an Egyptian what does Exodus mean to you?As for the resurrection, the only evidence is the empty grave and nothing else. Nobody had indeed witnessed the resurrection.As for the miracle birth,he believed that all births were miracles.He even predicted that perhaps one day we would find Jesus’ DNA!. For Williams saw that religions were engulfed in superstitions but appreciated the strengths and shared core values of all prime religions.As a liberal theologian and committed Christian,he believed that Christianity cannot be studied in isolation.It is essential for any world religion to look at other beliefs in order to understand its own.For example, it is imperative to fully understand how external forces such as socio-economic influences affect Christianity,and to study how they influence other religions.He was keen to promote inter-faith studies on a global and local level.He believed that all those who believed should not agree with other religious faiths but at least have a deep understanding and respect and be informed of others.Williams,as a pacifist,denounced any form of extremism and fundamentalism and was very fearful and concerned about the spread of extremism,misunderstanding,religious ignorance and prejudice.

Personal Life.

In 1945 he married Irene Daniels from Bancffosfelen, Pontyberem,Llanelli,the daughter of a veteran of the Somme and later a butcher/farmer.They had three children.Their daughter tragically died at 3 years old.Williams disregarded his objectivity and impartiality when it came to rugby! He was fervent supporter of Llanelli (the Scarlets)and the Welsh National Rugby team.In 1966 he went to Aberfan where a coal slurry tip slipped and engulfed an entire primary school which killed 116 children.Williams arranged for the funeral leaflets to be printed with the assistance of the local branch of Christian Aid.Williams travelled extensively in India,Europe,the Middle East,America,Japan and Korea.Williams was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 1982 and in later years suffered the ravages of Parkinson’s.He died in 2004 on the eve of his 83rd birthday and his ashes are interred at Pisgah Baptist Chapel,Bancffosfelen,Llanelli in the grave of his young daughter.He is survived by his wife and two sons,seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Publications

English:

World-Negation and World Maintenance -Some Hindu Perspective

Studies in Methodology- Religious Studies 19 pp 411-416

1966 “Deliverance and human destiny in Zoroastrianism”: in The Coming Deliverer - ‘Millennial Themes in World Religion”Editor Fiona Bowie with Christopher Deacy

1968 “Glossolalia as a religious phenomenon in the “Journal of Religion and Religions”

1968 “The Unfeigned Faith and an eighteenth century Panteolgia in Numen 1968 pp 208-217

1971 “Selflessness in the Pattern of Salvation” in Religious Studies.Volume 7,No 2 (1971) pp 153-167.Published by Cambridge University Press.Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20004880

1978 “Welsh Nationalism” in Religion and Ethnicity.Editors H.Coward and L.Kawamura. Sir Wilfred Laurier University Press,Ontario,Canada.

1981 Tongues of the Spirit (University of Wales Press).A study of Pentecostal Glossolalia and Related Phenomena).

1989 “The Status of Scriptures:Some Comparative Contours” The Scottish Journal of Religious Studies 1989 pp 22-40

1989 “Sacred Sound:Unintelligibility and Meaningfulness” in the Scottish Journal of Religious Studies.Editor G.Richards 1989 pp 22-40

1990 Muslims and Christians in “Reconciliation Quarterly (1990-1991) pp6-8

1990 Turning Points in Religious Studies.Edited by Ursula King.Forwarded by Desmond Tutu

1992 Basic themes in the Comparative Study of Religion (Edwin Mellen Press) ISBN 0 7734 9580 0

1993 “Waldo Williams : A Celtic Mystic?” in G.Flood (Editor) “Mapping Invisible Worlds in the Cosmos” pp 127-138 Edinburgh University Press

1993 The Holy Book of Islam in Logos 4 pp1-4

1993 “The World’s Parliament of Religions Re visited” (being the Dr Williams lecture in 1993) in Faith and Freedom. Volume 46 Autumn 1993. Editor P.B.Godfrey.ISSN 0014-701X. A journal of progressive Religion published by Manchester College,Oxford,England,

1996 Gweneth Thomas Zarfoff “Faith as a Grain of Mustard seed”.The story of John Thomas,Welsh Evangelist in Korea

2000 Random Reflections - A collection of poems

2003 Contemporary Conceptions of Gods :Interdisciplinary Essays (Edwin Mellen Press)

Welsh /Cymraeg

1961 ‘Cymod yr Hen Destament’ yn “Diwynyddiaeth” (Theology) Golygydd/Editor D.R Griffiths pp 11-22.

1961 Bwdhiaeth Heddiw ( Buddhism Today) yn y “Diwynyddiaeth (Theology)

1966 Clywsoch yr Enw .Arweiniad at ddeuddeg dysgawdwr (Heard the Name) Gomer Press,Llandysul.

1967 Crist ein Cenhadaeth (Gwasg John Penry) (Christ our Mission) Gwasg John Penry,Abertawe/Swansea.

1967 ‘Datguddiad a Dialog” Saith Ysgrif ar Grefydd (Seven Essays on Religion) Golygydd (Editor) Dewi Z Phillips Gwasg Gee,Dinbych (Denbigh) pp 69-101

1968 Crefyddau’r Dwyrain (Eastern Religions) Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru (University of Wales Press) Printed by Wasg Gee ,Dinbych

1975 Nadolig yn Calcutta (Christmas in Calcutta) Gomer Press,Llandysul SBN 85088 333 4

1976 Ysgrif Bortread o T.Glyn Thomas yn “Gwennol yn y Tir” Golygydd E.G Jenkins (pp28-35)

1978 Codi Pontydd (Building Bridges) Myfyrdodau ar genhadaeth a neges i’n hoes gan M.A Thomas.Cyfieithwyd o’r Saesneg gan C.G.Williams

1979 “Beth yw ystyr Yr Ymgnawdoliad” i mi heddiw? yn Y Traethodydd 1979 tt 54-57 Golygydd/Editor J Caerwyn Williams

1981 “Ceisio deall Islam” yn y Traethodydd 1981 (tt 14-17)

1982 Termau Astudiaethau Crefyddol (Cyd Bwyllgor Cymru) (Religious Studies Terms-Welsh Joint Education)

1982 “Diwinyddiaeth y Crefyddau” yn “Diwynyddiaeth”(Theology).Golygydd D Eurig Davies.pp34-46

1983 “Y gwr o Gaeo” Y Traethodydd (tt 87-99)

1985 Yr Efengyl a’r Crefyddau (The Gospel and Religions),Gomer Press,Llandysul 1SBN 086383 270 9

1986 Addysg a’r Crefyddau (Education and the Religions) yn Efrydiau Athronyddol xix tt 16-31 1990 Llwybrau’r Arglwydd-Cyngor Eglwysi Cymru (The ways of the Lord- Church Council of Wales).

1991 Y Fendigaid Gan.(The translation of the Bhagavadgita into Welsh).University of Wales Press.

1995 Timothy Richard (1845-1919),A Baptist Missionary in China and founder of Shansi University in China.Gwasg Cae’r Nant. Published by Y Lolfa,Talybont,Aberystwyth.

Agweddau ar Hindwaeth.Gwerslyfr i efrydwyr gyda chymotrth grant y Swyddfa Gymreig (A Students book on the aspects of Hinduism.Grant given by the Welsh Office).

I gyflwyno Hindwaeth a Bwdhaeth (Prifysgol Cymru,Aberystwyth). Llawlyfr ar gyfer myfyrwyr y radd allanol. (Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism.(University College of Wales,Aberystwyth). (A Study book for those studying for an external degree)

References[edit]


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