Physicist. Humanist. Scholar. Teacher. Writer.
Varadaraja V. Raman is Emeritus Professor of Physics and Humanities at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has lectured and written Indian heritage and culture and authored numerous books, book reviews and articles on science and religion. He is considered expert in the Hindu religion, especially as how it relates to modern science. In 2005 he was elected Senior Fellow of the Metanexus Institute. In 2006 he was the recipient of the Raja Rao Award which recognizes writers who have made outstanding contributions to the literature of the South Asian Diaspora. On May 18, 2007, Navya Shastra, a reformist Hindu organization, conferred on him the title Acharya Vidyasagar in recognition of his contributions to Hinduism.
He has guided our endeavors as an advisor and friend. His sagacious interpretations of Hindu culture are profoundly attuned to a timeless spiritual sensibility. At the same time, he unapologetically rejects outmoded practices that have no place in the modern world. In ancient India, a man like Professor Raman was called an acharya, a teacher of profound truths, a guide on the spiritual path, and someone an entire community looked up to. At Navya Shastra, we are honored to proclaim Professor Raman – Acharya Vidyasagar- an embodiment of the ocean of wisdom.
Varadaraja V. Raman (called V V by his friends) is a multifaceted personality. He is an eminent philosopher, physicist, writer and author of original work in each of those categories.
To those who know him from close, Raman is also an intelligent and inspired prankster. This unusual but charming facet of his that arises from his great sense of humor reminds one of Krishna.
Listening to Raman is always an educational experience. Conversing with him is always a pleasant event. It is impossible to come in contact with this person without coming away awed, inspired, and warmed. The enormous work that Raman has done even in his ‘retired’ years is definitely deserving of the Raja Rao award.
– Prof. Nitant Kenkre.
Raman was born to a Tamil family which had settled down in Bengal. Blends of opposites, as of the North and the South in the case of his upbringing as a child, characterize him and may explain the keen insights he always displays into the nature of his surroundings. As a small boy, he learned to recite Vedic hymns in Sanskrit and Pater Noster in Latin. He read the Koran and the Torah. He has an impressive facility in French, German and Spanish, in handling equations of theoretical physics and in constructing verses, in pragmatic practice and historical scholarship, in science and art. His undergraduate work was in physics, his first postgraduate degree in mathematics. His doctoral work in Paris, carried out in the medium of the French language under the supervision of the Nobel laureate Louis de Broglie, was in theoretical physics, specifically on the mathematical underpinning of quantum mechanics.
After obtaining his doctorate from the Sorbonne, and publishing his research in the Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences, he returned to India and worked at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics. He served the UNESCO for a few years, during which time he became more interested in the history and philosophy of science. His varied interests took him into avenues of work well outside the confines to which many physicists are limited. Eventually, he settled down at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the USA as a professor of Physics and Humanities.
He went on to publish extensively on the historical, philosophical, and social aspects of science. His scholarly papers on those matters have been on the history of thermodynamics, the origins of physical chemistry, the genesis of the Schrödinger equation, the early reactions to Einstein’s theory of relativity, the impact of the Copernican revolution, and on the Euler-D’Alembert controversy in 18th century mathematical physics. He has also written on such topics as the history of the theory of gravitation, of the energy conservation principle, and of acoustics.
In 1988, he was nominated by his university’s president, and was a recipient of the Outstanding Educator award, presented in Washington D.C. by the American Association for Higher Education & Accreditation.
He has lectured profusely on many aspects of Indian heritage and culture. In the early 1980s he initiated a journal called INDHER (Indian Heritage) to educate children of Indian origin living beyond the shores of India on aspects of their culture and heritage. Out of the articles in this journal grew two books: “Glimpses of Indian Heritage,” and “Satanama: Hundred Names from India’s Past,” both published by Popular Prakashan in India. He gave a series of lectures on Verses from the Bhagavad Gita of relevance to the Modern World, which were published later as “Nuggets from the Gita” by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. He wrote a series of articles on Indian perspectives for India Abroad which are the basis of his “Reflections from Alien Shores,” also a Bhavan’s Book.
Raman has been a member of the Calcutta Mathematical Society, American Physical Society, American Association of Physics Teachers, Philosophy of Science Association and History of Science Society. He has served as the President of various cultural/social organizations including The Interfaith Forum of Rochester, India Community Center of Rochester, The Bengali Association of Rochester, the Rochester Tamil Sangam which he founded, the Martin Luther King Commission of Rochester. He was elected the 2004-2005 Metanexus Institute Fellow on Science and Religion, in which capacity he delivered six lectures at the Hillel Hall of the University of Pennsylvania on Indic Visions in an Age of Science.
Raman is characterized in a conference program of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science as a trans-cultural voyager, who finds meaning in life as he courses from language to language, from physics to philosophy, from music to metaphysics, from Gita to Gregorian Chants, from Mozart to Musicals, from Shankara to Kant, from feasting to fasting, who experiences mystical thrills as much from Maxwell’s equations as from meditation, addicted to alliterations, deeply committed to spreading science and Enlightenment, and very aware of the positive contributions of religions, a dedicated bridge-builder who thinks that what really matters in life is whether one has been kind and compassionate to fellow beings, and brought smiles and laughter to those with whom one interacts.