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Buddhist-Christian Studies 23 (2003) iii-iv

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As the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies (SBCS) moves toward its twenty-fifth year of existence, the question of identity looms. Two specific issues seem especially pertinent.

The first has to do with participation. Who should be involved in SBCS dialogues? The founding vision was to include all Christians and Buddhists, men and women, professional and lay, theorists and practitioners. Some religious dialogue groups have chosen to focus either on discussions of theoretical topics or on actions aimed at redressing social problems. The SBCS has instead chosen to include both. In addition, meditative virtuosos from both traditions have been welcome, and have influenced our group to a significant degree, especially in our national and international meetings.

The breadth of this vision has served us well--as an ideal at least. This stated openness has not always resulted in as broad a participation as we desired. Active leadership in the Society has tended to come from Western academics, former Christians who have become Buddhists, and Christians who see unusual value in the literary teachings of Buddhism.

The intention, however, has been actualized to some degree and, as important, has influenced the open character of the dialogue. And, as we will discuss in more detail below, it has been a determinative factor in the choice of topics for our meetings.

Still, like all visions, the question of participation is open to reevaluation. Some of us wonder whether this successful dialogue could not be even more successful by going beyond Christians and Buddhists and including, to some degree at least, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and others in our meetings. Not all agree with this desire, but all agree it is an important topic worth discussing.

Of course, good arguments have been marshaled on both sides of the issue. Those who think we should remain Buddhist and Christian in our focus argue the value of our historical identity, the need to go deeper in our dialogues rather than broader, and the more than simply nostalgic value of the specific relationships built up over the quarter of a century of our existence. These relationships, it is argued, are the tangible proof of our success.

Those who think we should broaden our participation to adherents of other religious groups argue that a multiparty dialogue would match more closely the reality of our everyday world--that is, it would be less artificial. In addition, it would inject new energy by creating a whole new range of topics for discussion--or at the least new takes on old topics [End Page iii]

And that brings us to the second issue facing our Society, the topics we address at our annual meetings. Although we have dealt with a respectable range of topics over the years, two have predominated: the issue of dual-belonging and the issue of religion's role in addressing complex social issues. These are both very important topics. And the sessions we have held on each have been productive.

Yet there is much more to the relationship among religions generally and between Buddhists and Christians specifically than these two topics embrace. We have only touched on spirituality, for example. We attempted one session on ritual but much more could be done there. Questions surrounding art and literature in their religious contexts have not been asked. Religious ethics have generally been ignored. And the question of truth has been relativized in keeping with the general tenor of modern society even though by this very act religion is reduced to philosophy.

This focus on certain topics does not have to be seen as an indictment, I suppose. One small dialogue group cannot do everything. Some other Buddhist-Christian groups have dealt with some of these topics. One thinks, for example, of the Monastics in Dialogue group that has made comparative spirituality their theme.

The topics we have dealt with probably reflect the existential, practical mindset of a group of academic activists (who don't believe that phrase is an oxymoron), and perhaps we should not worry overmuch about changing who we are. For the real question at this juncture is, What should...


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