It appears the U.S. military has just accredited its first official Hindu chaplain.
A report today in the newspaper Stars and Stripes says 40-year-old Army Capt. Pratima Dharm is being sponsored by a Hindu organization to be a chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
My efforts to immediately reach Dharm or Walter Reed were unsuccessful, so it’s not clear to me if Dharm just began working as a chaplain, or if what’s new is her sponsorship by a Hindu organization. The story says that until 2006 she was sponsored by a Pentecostal denomination in Missouri.
The story hints at her having a blended faith identity, and being comfortable wearing a cross and being under the auspices of a Christian organization. Chaplains — military and otherwise — are required to be able and willing to minister to people of various faiths, and with only 1,000 active Hindus in the U.S. military services, Capt. Dharm obviously has worked with many non-Hindus.
It seems to get at the broad spiritual role of chaplains, but it also gets at the fluid faith identity of many Hindus. The story quotes her as putting it like this:
“In Hinduism, the boundaries are not that strict,” she said. “It is to base your life on the Vedantic traditions, and you can be a Christian and follow the Vedantic traditions.”
We’ll be following her story in the coming days so watch our blog. Please let me know if you know any Hindu servicemembers or people who have worked with Dharm.