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Buddhist-Christian Studies 21.1 (2001) 107-108

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Sixth International Conference of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies

John Berthrong
Boston University

The society's sixth international conference, held 5-12 August 2000, was an exceptionally successful event for the five hundred plus participants. In great measure the success was due to the conference's scenic and user-friendly location at the Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma,Washington, and to the untiring work of Professor Paul Ingram and his staff. The spirit of Mount Rainier towered over the whole event, reminding us that both Buddhism and Christianity have a stake in global healing.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the conference was how well the various panels, presentations, plenary programs, and workshops matched the announced theme of the conference. Although I cannot speak for all the participants, in my extensive sampling of the events, care was given in addressing the question of global healing from a diverse set of spiritual perspectives and academic disciplines.Whether you attended the section on meditation or the erudite papers on orthodoxy, the presenters strove to show how their work could be understood as a way to promote global healing.

Nowhere was this attention to the theme of the conference more clearly demonstrated than in the evening plenaries. I confess that I am not a fan of evening meetings. However, in each case the various panels presented their analysis as a gift to the larger mosaic of the conference. The evenings began with Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne and Dr. Cecil Murray addressing nonviolent struggle for economic justice. This was followed by presentations on the Earth Charter; gender, justice, and oppression in Buddhism and Christianity; and consumerism and ecology. I would also be remiss if I did not note that we were treated to wonderful musical performances not only at the opening and closing ceremonies but during all the other plenaries as well.

One of the most noteworthy features of the work of the society over the last two decades has been its conviction that erudite scholarship and the actual profession and practice of religion are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the society was founded on the belief that dialogue between Buddhists and Christians is a good thing in and of itself. The workshop on the interior dialogue of meditation was a gentle refutation to those in the academic world who maintain that only analysis of isolated religious practices or texts makes any sense. The society has always urged its members to bring their practices as well as their ideas to the dialogical encounter. [End Page 107]

Music played a moving role in the life of the conference. The plenary sessions took place in the magnificent new music center at PLU, wherein resides a huge concert organ.We were literally moved by the organ's powerful rendition of the classic works of the Western religious musical tradition. Matching the organ was the gentle call of the shakuhachi. An organ and a shakuhachi may seem mismatched in theory and performance--much less sheer volume for the bamboo flute--but they blended into a symphony of shared sacred music.

Having praised the thematic attentiveness, musical brilliance, and spiritual depth of the conference, I must likewise highlight the academic integrity of the papers. Many of the professorial types mentioned over and over again how pleased they were with the thoughtfulness of the academic presentations. Here we need not only to thank the authors but also the conference planning committee for its ability to select the best representatives of erudite, informed, and engaged models of academic scholarship. Those who were not present will simply have to wait for many of these fine papers to be published in various scholarly journals. Another helpful detail was the conference bookstore, which stocked many of the recent publications of the participants.

The only criticism I heard during the whole conference was that it was, alas, a bit too long. In this busy world it is difficult for most people to block out a whole week for one conference. I mention this only in...


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