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Buddhist-Christian Studies 21.1 (2001) 109-111

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Seventh International Buddhist-Christian Conference

David W.Chappell
Soka University of America

Pack your bags! The annual meeting of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies in Nashville decided that the next international conference will be held August 5-12, 2003, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

An invitation was extended to the society by Dr. John Butt, director of the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture (ISRC), and by the president of Payap University, Dr. Boonthong Poocharoen. As a Presbyterian faculty member of the McGilvary Faculty of Theology, John has extensive interreligious experience in Thailand and participated in the society's last international conference held in Tacoma, Washington, in August 2000.

The institute's associate director, Professor Saeng Chandrangam, is a former Buddhist monk and is one of Thailand's most highly respected Buddhist laymen. He was Chair of the Department of Oriental Studies and the Department of Modern Languages and was Dean of Humanities of the government's Chiang Mai University, where he taught philosophy and theology. Currently he teaches at a Buddhist university in Chiang Mai as well as serving as the associate director ofISRC. Also, Donald Swearer, who has been active with the society since the first international conference in 1980, will be in residence in Chiang Mai in the springs of 2002 and 2003 and can help plan the conference.

Payap University was founded in 1974 by the Church of Christ in Thailand, a consortium ofThai Christian congregations begun by Presbyterian, American Baptist, and Disciples missionaries. However, about 95 percent of Payap University's nine thousand students are Buddhist since Chiang Mai is centrally located in the Burmese-Thai axis with the heaviest concentration of Buddhists in the world. As a result, the conference will be set in a context of Protestant missions within a Theravadin Buddhist culture. This setting will increase the presence of conservative and evangelical Christians, as well as Theravadin Buddhists, to serve as an important balance to the already strong Mahayana and Catholic dialogue leaders in our international conferences. John wrote that "Holding the next conference here would demonstrate that there are other forms of Christian faith quite different from that represented by the evangelical missionaries" and that there are other ways of understanding and approaching other different religious communities. Accordingly, a possible theme [End Page 109] might be "Rethinking Mission Motivation and Practice (both Buddhist and Christian) for the Twenty-first Century."

Chiang Mai is a city of a population of about three hundred thousand that preserves much of the charm of traditional Thai culture, while also having modern conveniences like Western fast foods and ATMs, but has not yet succumbed to the congestion of Bangkok. Its weather should be in the eighties or nineties and its hotels are inexpensive (about twenty-five dollars per day for two). The meetings at Payap University will be in air-conditioned rooms in a picturesque setting. Payap has three campuses and is affiliated with the McCormick Hospital. It offers twenty-four undergraduate degrees, as well as master's degrees in divinity, linguistics, business administration, international business, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, philosophy, and Christianity.

Payap University can draw on considerable experience for hosting foreign programs. The vice president for external affairs, Martha Butt (wife of John), heads a committee that has planned, developed, and operated the in-country segments of all the Thai Elderhostel programs involving over three thousand participants. Also, they will be joined by faculty members from Mahidol, Chulalongkorn, and Thammasat Universities, including Dr. Parichart Suwanbubbha of Mahidol University, a Thai Buddhist (with a degree from Chicago comparing the concepts of karma and grace), who attended the Tacoma conference in 2000.

ISRC is located on the Crystal Spring campus of Payap University and was founded in 1996 to serve as a research and study center for scholars and others interested in the comparative study of religion and culture. The institute's primary goal is to provide and nurture a broad ecumenical religious vision for the people ofThailand and Southeast Asia and for others visiting or working...


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