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  • The Annual Meeting of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies:Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 29-30 October 2010
  • Sandra Costen Kunz

This past fall the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies (SBCS) presented two sessions at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) in Atlanta, Georgia. On Friday afternoon, 29 October, an extremely well-attended and in many ways inspiring session titled "The Scholarly Contributions of Rita M. Gross" was presented. The second panel, titled "Can/Should Buddhists and Christians Do Theology/ Buddhology Together?" was presented on Saturday morning, 30 October. It also drew a considerable crowd.

Each of the six members of Friday's panel addressed a different aspect of the work of Rita Gross, longtime SBCS leader and now professor emerita of comparative studies in religion, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She is also a senior teacher (lopon) in Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche's U.S. Lotus Garden center. The session was organized and moderated by current SBCS president Miriam M. Levering, professor of religious studies and Asian studies at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and an international advisor at Rissho Ko-Sekei in Tokyo. I will give highlights from the panelists' presentations in the order in which they spoke.

Kathleen Erndl, associate professor of religion at Florida State University, focused on Gross's work as teacher and mentor. Although she taught primarily undergraduates, Gross, in her writing, speaking, and generous conversation with rising scholars, not only moved the field toward taking religious practices and women's religious experience more seriously but also had a huge influence on how "women in religion" is taught. Gross was one of the first scholars to use the term "androcentric." Nancy Auer Falk, professor emerita of comparative religion at Western Michigan University, coedited Unspoken Worlds: Women's Religious Lives (1981) with Gross. Now in its third edition, this groundbreaking collection of case studies watered the flowering of cross-cultural studies in the lived religion of women. Falk reminded us of Gross's role in the election of the first female member of the AAR's board and the establishment of its working group on women and religion. Judith Simmer-Brown, professor of religious [End Page 221] studies at Naropa University, focused on Gross's work in Tibetan Buddhist studies, especially her pointing out the discrepancy between the prophetic voices about women's roles in early Buddhist texts and Tibetan monasticism's institutionalized androcentrism. Simmer-Brown emphasized the importance of Gross's work in Buddhist theology—for example, her deconstructing "Theravada/Mahayana/Vajrayana put-downs" and "incipient fundamentalisms" in Western Buddhism.

The fourth panelist, Paul F. Knitter, professor of theology, world religions, and culture at Union Theological Seminary, described Gross's contributions to Buddhist-Christian dialogue, recounting that they met at the Society's founding conference in 1980. He said, "Rita is the Christian theologians' friendly gadfly, always asking questions that make us very uncomfortable." Particularly provocative has been her insistence that claims on the part of religious communities to religious superiority or exclusive truth are incompatible with support of religious diversity. SBCS vice president Terry Muck, dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary, spoke about Gross's contributions to the society, noting that she has held every office except treasurer. He and Gross coedited Buddhist-Christian Studies from 1995-2005, in part because the society had decided— after founding editor David Chappell retired—that the ideal would be one male and one female editor and one Buddhist and one Christian editor. He usually handled the work with the publisher while she usually worked with article selection along with the reviewers. Rosemary Radford Ruether, professor emerita at the Pacific School of Religion, reviewed Gross's contributions to feminist scholarship. She reminded us that while still a student at the University of Chicago, Gross crafted a fundamental methodology for studying women and religion and insisted that turning a blind eye to 80 percent of the religious practice in various cultures is simply bad empiricism. Gross has consistently pointed out that colonialism is connected with privileging males and texts, Reuther claimed, and that no one studies religion with "objectivity."

Gross's response to these presentations focused on...


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