About four years ago we decided to solicit a collection of articles on Jesus Christ and Gautama the Buddha, the founders of Christianity and Buddhism. Both Jesus and Gautama are important foci of their respective traditions. Thus it has always been and thus it is today. Books about Jesus have become something of a cottage industry in Christian publishing, and the visibility of the Buddha in Western academic and spirituality circles has steadily grown as the number of committed Buddhists has grown, both on a grassroots level and on the level of public figures.
But we sensed that adherents of each tradition were becoming increasingly interested in the other tradition’s founder. Jesus is no longer just a name to many Buddhists, but someone in whom they were very interested. To Christians, Gautama is no longer a murky creation of Herman Hesse’s imagination, but a historical personage of great importance. We thought that in that interest itself lay a fruitful area of possible interreligious interchange. If Buddhists could speak candidly of their thoughts and feelings for Jesus of Nazareth, both good thoughts/feelings and not-so-good thoughts/feelings, the potential for learning was great. The same dynamic would apply to Christians speaking about Gautama. Commenting on the other religious tradition’s founder, we thought, could become a significant mode of interreligious dialogue.
Our intuitions were on target. As the articles came in, we realized a number of things. First, we received an incredible diversity of opinion. We had intentionally left the assignment vague in terms of how the commentators would write—questions asked, style used, content covered—all these were up to the writers as they saw fit. Still, we were amazed, and frankly pleased, with the variety of views and approaches represented by the essays. Some were academic in nature, others impressionistic, some almost confessional.
We think you will enjoy this section in the pages that follow. Please let us know your thoughts about it.
This edition’s book review section is the first one edited by Alice Keefe, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Alice attended our International Meeting at DePaul University in 1996, and we became fast friends. Most recently she contributed an article to volume 17 of Buddhist-Christian Studies, “Visions of Interconnectedness in Engaged Buddhism and Feminist Theology.” We are grateful for her work—that which she has already done and that which she will do. [End Page iii]
Alice has assumed responsibilities formerly shouldered by our current society president, Paul Ingram. Paul has always been working for the Society for Buddhist Christian Studies. One of our founders, Fred Streng, recruited Paul to the cause. At one of the first meetings of the Society in Hawai’i, Fred found in Paul a willing, able worker and a mind of unusual breadth, an essential combination for someone trying to cover the waterfront in terms of books published in the wide area of Buddhist-Christian studies. Paul has published often and widely himself, books ranging from edited collections (The Modern Buddhist-Christian Dialogue) to history of religion analysis (The Dharma of Faith: An Introduction to Classical Pure Land Buddhism) to constructive theological work (Wrestling with the Ox: A Theology of Religious Experience) to fiction—for several years, he has been working on a novel.
Paul’s current task, in addition to his ongoing work as professor of religion at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, is the herculean task of organizing our summer of 2000 International Conference at Tacoma (see pages 242–243).