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Buddhist-Christian Studies 23 (2003) 77-83

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Jeffrey Carlson
Dominican University

This is a revision and combination of two presentations originally given at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies in Denver, Colorado, in November 2001. The first was a panel presentation on the theme" The Possibilities and Perils of Double Belonging," and the second was a response to five panelists who addressed the theme "Personal Religious Journeys."

Multiple Belonging: Possibilities, Challenges, and the Ongoing Dominance of Christianity in Contemporary Buddhist-Christian Dialogue

When I had the opportunity to welcome participants to the Fifth International Buddhist-Christian Conference organized and sponsored by the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies at DePaul University (then my home institution) in 1996, I cracked a joke along the lines of "it's so good to have so many Buddhist-Christians" here. No one laughed. At the recent International Parliament of the World's Religions events, in 1993 in Chicago and in 1999 in Cape Town, many participants needed hyphens or dashes to list their religious affiliations when they registered. And more recently, at the 2001 Annual Meeting of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies, I conducted an informal poll of the audience at one of the well-attended sessions. I asked, "How many persons in the audience are not now and have never been Christian?" Only one person raised a hand. Buddhist-Christians. Or at least, Buddhists who used to be Christians. And so it was timely for the Society to initiate some sessions exploring the theme "The Possibilities and Perils of Double Belonging," coupled with a session on "Personal Journeys," in which several participants described boundary crossings between traditions as well as internalized combinations of them.

Robert Schreiter has analyzed our topic and made a number of important observations, suggesting three distinctive ways in which one might describe double belonging. One might think, first, in terms of what he calls sequential belonging, in which "a person has moved from one religious tradition to another but retains some traces of the earlier belief." A second category is dialogical belonging, in which "two traditions dwell side by side within the life of a person, and there may be greater or less communication between the two. . . . The self that mediates this duality is . . . [End Page 77] seen as . . . a conversation that actualizes now one tradition and then another." Finally, there is simultaneous belonging, in which "a person has moved through sequential belonging but then chooses to go back and reappropriate earlier belongings on a par with current allegiances. This reappropriation does not entail subsuming one system into another but rather finding a way for them to coexist beyond dialogical belonging." 1 This simultaneous belonging, Schreiter says, is truly rare. He cites Raimundo Panikkar and Julia Ching as exponents of such a position. So, from Schreiter's point of view, when and if we speak seriously about the possibilities of double belonging, we may do well to clarify which form it is taking and which of these categories—sequential, dialogical, or simultaneous—most closely describes what we intend to assert—that is, if we are serious about these possibilities as live options. But there are opposing voices.

"If you are a Christian, it is better to develop spiritually within your religion and be a genuine, good Christian. If you are a Buddhist, be a genuine Buddhist. Not something half-and-half!This may cause only confusion in your mind. . . .Don't try to put a yak's head on a sheep's body." So says His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 2 A host of other critical questions problematize the very notion of double belonging. For example: Do scholars in contexts like the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies, in an attempt to undo centuries of Western imperialism, become in their anticolonialist approaches what Wendy Doniger has called "cryptotheologians" and uncritical advocates for those non-Western traditions and cultures they study? 3 Another critique: When Westerners increasingly study Eastern religions, does the East appeal to the West, as Tessa Bartholomeusz has suggested, as an arena of superficial self...


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