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  • The 2007 Meeting of the Society for Buddhist-Christian StudiesSan Diego, California, November 16–17, 2007
  • Peter A. Huff

The Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies sponsored two sessions in conjunction with the 2007 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Each session highlighted themes related to the work of a major figure in Buddhist-Christian dialogue. The first session, addressing the topic “Homosexuality, the Church, and the Sangha,” was organized in honor of Roger Corless (1938–2007), longtime member of the society, dual practitioner of Roman Catholicism and Vajrayana Buddhism, and a well-known voice for “queer sangha.” The second session, a panel discussion titled “The Thought and Legacy of Masao Abe,” focused on the career achievements of Abe (1915–2006), widely acknowledged as one of the most innovative and influential scholars in modern Zen studies, interreligious dialogue, and comparative philosophy.

The first session, moderated by Harry Wells (Humboldt State University), featured three papers on issues of gender, sexual ethics, and religious identity. Robert Fastiggi, professor of systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Detroit), presented the paper “The Catholic Church and Homosexuality.” Arguing that the Catholic tradition avoids an “either/or” approach to homosexuality, he outlined the church’s official distinction between morally neutral homoerotic identity and what Vatican documents call “intrinsically disordered” homosexual acts. He also noted that Catholic researchers differ significantly on the question of the genetic origins of same-sex attraction. The key to Catholic moral teaching on homosexuality, he explained, is a “theology of the body” that envisions male-female complementarity as the divinely ordained pattern of creation. Fastiggi suggested that further discussion of related ideas such as celibacy, chastity, desire, and concupiscence would enhance future Buddhist-Christian dialogue on homosexuality.

Ilene Stanford, a ThD candidate in religion, gender, and culture at Harvard University, presented the next paper, “In or Out? Marriage as a Social Practice.” Describing marriage in the United States as a “site of contestation,” she explored the conflicting [End Page 137] models of sexual union that currently inform public debates in political and ecclesiastical contexts. Using William Johnson’s A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics (2006) as a point of departure, she argued that many contemporary examinations of sexual relationships, even some of the most inclusive, fail to reckon with the way in which the West’s Augustinian legacy continues to make heterosexual marriage the norm for all moral reflection on sexual identity and expression. The escalating controversy in the international Anglican community, she said, exposes the weaknesses of Johnson’s “deliberative democracy” model and other theoretical models that minimize the role of political and social power in the construction of sexual ideals.

José Ignacio Cabezón, who holds the XIV Dalai Lama Chair in Tibetan Buddhism at the University of California, Santa Barbara, presented the final paper: “Is Homosexual Sex ‘Sexual Misconduct’? Critical Reflections on Some Classical Indo-Tibetan Sources.” Analyzing the changing portraits of sexual immorality in the Pali canon, Indian Sanskrit texts, and Tibetan scholastic treatises, Cabezón traced the evolution of monastic commentary on lay sexuality over the course of several centuries. What originated primarily as a simple prohibition against some forms of male adulterous activity, he explained, eventually became an unprecedented attempt to regulate intricate details of sexual behavior. Identifying Ansanga (fourth century ce) as the first Buddhist writer to proscribe same-sex activity between men, Cabezón suggested that changing social mores, intra-Buddhist debates, and the fertile monastic imagination contributed to the gradual elaboration of moral teaching in ancient and classical Buddhist literature.

After the paper presentations, Richard Reilly, professor of philosophy at St. Bonaventure University, responded with provocative comments. He raised critical points about the significance of the distinction between sexual acts and erotic relationships, the strategic though limited value of “deliberative democracy” in multicultural faith communities, and the need for more rigorous comparative study of homophobic legislation in Buddhist and Abrahamic religious traditions. Sparking an engaging discussion among presenters and members of the audience, Reilly’s remarks underscored the importance of ongoing interdisciplinary investigations into homosexuality, the church, and the sangha.

The society’s second session at the AAR provided a venue for former...