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  • Report on the Ninth European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies Conference:"Hope: A Form of Delusion? Buddhist and Christian Perspectives"
  • Elizabeth J. Harris, President of the Network

Can we hope in a world that is shot through with suffering? Should hope be shunned as a form of attachment? Should we affirm our hope or let go of it? And, if we embrace hope, what should we hope for and what can inspire us? Between sixty and seventy people, from sixteen countries, came together to address questions such as these at the ninth conference of the European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies, held in glorious weather at Liverpool Hope University in England, between 30 June and 4 July 2011.

At the heart of the conference were ten keynote presentations on five crucial aspects of the theme of hope: "Hope and the Critique of Hope," "Hope in Pastoral Situations," "Embodiments of Hope," "Hope in Situations of Hopelessness: Engaged Buddhism and Liberation Theology," and "Eschatologies of Hope." Dr. Sybille Fritsch-Oppermann (Church of Southern Hesse) gave the introductory lecture, which suggested that hope can be seen both as a utopian ideal within and beyond living religions, and a working hypothesis, through which humans can strive toward truth and transcendence.

Each theme was addressed from a Buddhist and a Christian perspective, followed by a plenary to enable dialogue between the speakers, and between speakers and participants. Addressing the first theme, "Hope and the Critique of Hope," from a Buddhist perspective, Richard Gombrich (Balliol College, Oxford) robustly argued that hope was not a category relevant to Theravada Buddhism, distinguishing between hope and confidence, and hope and expectation. Werner Jeanrond (Glasgow University), taking the Christian perspective, suggested that a critical theology of hope—an inter-hope dialogue—is necessary, within a critique of other key concepts such as salvation, faith, and love. [End Page 135]

Within the session titled "Hope in Pastoral Situations," Dr. Hiroshi Munehiro Niwano (Rissho Kosei-kai, Japan) focused on Rissho Kosei-kai's pastoral work, most movingly its response to the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Notto Thelle (Oslo University), speaking from a Christian viewpoint, sensitively explored pastoral situations caused by life experiences that seem to question and make a mockery of hope, drawing on decades of Buddhist-Christian encounter. Peggy Morgan (Mansfield College, Oxford), addressing the third theme, "Embodiments of Hope," concretized her brief by focusing on a contemporary embodiment of hope capable of emboldening Christians: Rosemary Radford Ruether and her listening dialogue with Buddhism. Mitsuya Dake (Ryukoku University, Japan), on the other hand, chose Amida Buddha as his empowering embodiment of the wisdom, compassion, and non-dualism that lies at the heart of Buddhism, focusing on Shinran's understanding.

The theme "Hope in Situations of Hopelessness" was opened to the public in an evening session. Sallie King (James Madison University, USA), using examples such as the Sarvodaya Movement in Sri Lanka and the Dalai Lama's peace work, argued that Buddhism is "loaded" with hope, from an Engaged Buddhist perspective. Buddhist hope, at one level, is an amalgam of acceptance, lawful change, and effort. At another level, it is the conviction that everyone has the potential to change and that truth has power. Sathianathan Clarke (Wesley Theological College, Washington, D.C.) movingly examined Dalit liberation theology, suggesting that hope within this context could be seen as a proxy topos that extends faith into life, an alter-wisdom where love can enrich life, and an energy, a verb, leading to transformative action.

Addressing the last theme, "Eschatologies of Hope," Anthony Kelly (Australian Catholic University) recognized a contemporary crisis of hope and, distinguishing between hope as an emotion and hope as a virtue, explored a paradox: that Christian hope is rooted in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus but that this event is described in a varied rhetoric of negations. Justin Ritzinger (Oberlin College, USA), noting that endings are hard to find in Buddhist literature, examined the coming of Maitreya, the future Buddha, as a possible candidate for a Buddhist eschaton. He concluded that the similarities to Christian eschatology are superficial, with the exception of a contemporary reinvention of the Maitreyan tradition in China.

In addition to invited keynote speakers, a...


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