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  • Church, Liberation, and World Religions: Towards a Christian-Buddhist Dialogue by Mario L. Aguilar
  • Amos Yong
CHURCH, LIBERATION, AND WORLD RELIGIONS: TOWARDS A CHRISTIAN-BUDDHIST DIALOGUE. By Mario L. Aguilar. Ecclesiological Investigations 12. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012; paperback ed., 2014. ix + 166 pp.

The diminutiveness of this volume might be deceptive to those who are unaware of the large body of work informing its scholarship, thoughtfulness, conceptualization, and constructive proposal. Mario L. Aguilar is a Chilean native, a lifelong contemplative and Camaldolese Benedictine Oblate, a trained anthropologist (University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies), and a prolific and prodigious scholar [End Page 247] who has studied historical and contemporary religious phenomena across the majority world. Since landing at the University of St. Andrews in 1994—where he has served in various positions, including dean of the School of Divinity for a time, and most recently as chair of religion and politics and director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics at the University’s St. Mary’s College—he has authored or edited more than thirty books, including The History and Politics of Latin American Theology (3 vols., SCM Press, 2007–2008), A Social History of the Catholic Church in Chile (9 vols. and counting, perhaps, Edwin Mellen Press, 2006–2013), and various studies of religion in East Africa, most recently Rethinking Age in Africa: Colonial, Postcolonial and Contemporary Interpretations of Cultural Representations (Africa World Press, 2007) and The Politics of God in East Africa: Oromo Ritual and Religion (Africa World Press, 2009). I delineate only a small portion of his prior work in order to register the breadth and scope of Aguilar’s scholarship. As should be obvious from this sampling of his prior efforts, all of his work is sociopolitically and historically situated, even as it informed by his anthropological craft, the latter of which has also included two books on anthropological theory: Recent Advances and Issues in Anthropology (Greenwood Press, 2000) and Anthropology and Biblical Studies: Avenues of Approach (Deo Publishing, 2004).

But what does all of this anthropological and historical work, especially on Africa and Latin America, have to do with this volume under review on Buddhist-Christian dialogue? Here, it is important to know that Aguilar’s interest in the history and theology of contemplation and the monastic life have motivated his research and writing on Abbé Jules Monchanin (1895–1967), Dom Henri Le Saux (aka Swami Abhishiktananda, 1910–1973), and Dom Bede Griffiths (1906–1993) in the Indian context, and others like Thomas Merton (1915–1968), the American Catholic mystic, including The Stranger in Thomas Merton and the 14th Dalai Lama (Fundación Literaria Civilización, 2010) and Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Political Action (SPCK, 2011). Along the way, Aguilar has focused especially on the Tibetan context, currently completing a manuscript provisional titled A History of the Lamas in Tibet, 1391–2006.

Given the preceding background, it will perhaps appear obvious that in Church, Liberation, and World Religions, the thesis presented is what might be called a performative ecclesiology, in Aguilar’s own words, an “ecclesiology of service” (p. 3), wherein the marks of the church are not dogmatically defined but practically established. This ecclesiological vision is unfolded across the book’s eight chapters: on Vatican II’s openings toward a more positive appraisal of the non-Christian faiths; on Latin American praxis, especially in the work and legacy of Gustavo Gutiérrez (b. 1928), the acknowledged “father” of liberation theology; on the Trappist missionaries and martyrs of Algeria (in 1996); on the Buddhist-Christian dialogue during the years of the Vietnam war viewed through the lens of Daniel Berrigan’s (b. 1921) encounter with Thich Nhat Hanh (b. 1926); on Thomas Merton’s relationship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama; on the post–Vatican II Medellin conference (1968) and its dialogue with the secular, its preferential option for the poor, and its advocacy of liberation theology; on a post-Christendom Christianity amid a world of both poverty (in the majority world) and affluence (through the neoliberal capitalist global market); [End Page 248] and concluding toward a fresh ecclesiology marked by dialogical spirituality and liberative praxis. This...


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