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  • Editors’ Introduction
  • Carol S. Anderson and Thomas Cattoi

One of the issues with which I have struggled in interfaith work and within Buddhist-Christian studies over the years is the common, but often unspoken, practice of engaging the dialogue from a position of recognizing strengths in the other tradition. I am occasionally invited to speak at Mother’s Trust/Mother’s Place, an interfaith community in western Michigan. It is a vibrant intentional community, rooted in an offshoot of the Vivekananda tradition and located about an hour’s drive from Kalamazoo, where I teach. They offer courses on interfaith work and have an active and varied list of speakers throughout the year, ranging from indigenous native traditions of Michigan to Buddhist, Sufi, Hindu—and, of course, Christian. The resident members of this community are grounded in the meditation practices of the Rama-krishna lineage but wrestle with the very real challenges of how to live a life of integrity that honors and respects the truths of all faith traditions. When I have spoken at services on Sunday morning, I speak out of the Pāli tradition, the Buddhist tradition with which I have identified, studied, and argued for the better part of three decades. The first talks that I gave in the late 1990s reflected the frustration that I still feel with the Sinhalese government in Sri Lanka and the civil war that is now referred to as a “Tamil uprising” instead of a civil war. I had a number of conversations that were rooted in my own insistence that in any interfaith dialogue, we do a disservice to the dialogue if we speak to the best of the religious traditions instead of unpacking and analyzing the ways in which the practitioners betray the best of their own religious traditions. I can’t say that I have answered that question, but I can say that I have learned to look for new answers in the dialogues, and I was taken back to my questions about how we should engage in the comparative exploration of Buddhism and Christianity when reading the papers that appear in this issue of the journal.

The papers presented in the panels at the American Academy of Religion Buddhist-Christian Studies sessions in 2014 speak to this very issue. The contributors to both sessions are engaged in the profound—and urgent—task of engaging with the world, in all of its complexities, both just and unjust. In the first set of papers, the contributors offer ways to both challenge and learn from each other within the framework of liberation theology and Engaged Buddhism. We define liberation theology as any form of interpreting the Christian message that addresses the needs of the world by seeking to transform the structures of the world. Engaged Buddhism [End Page vii] seeks nonviolently to address social problems and needs on the basis of Buddhist thought and practice. The two questions posed to the contributors to begin this dialogue were: Does each tradition have limitations that it does not see clearly enough until viewed from the point of view of the other tradition? Does each have strengths from which the other should learn? Again, this last question was the point at which I reflected back on my first talks at Mother’s Trust/Mother’s Place. It seemed to me that we hadn’t moved anywhere: focusing on the intent, perhaps, instead of the actual ends to which liberation theology and Engaged Buddhism have been turned. However, the papers offer profound insights that explore the limitations as well as the strengths, recognizing that the tension and synergy between compassion and justice run throughout both movements. Kristen Largen’s introduction and chairing of the session identifies the strands that wove the panel together, and I would like to quote from Ruben Habito’s response in this volume: the authors assume “that it is ‘good thing’ for Buddhists and Christians, as Buddhists, and as Christians respectively, to be engaged in tasks of socio-ecological transformation, that is, in the various tasks involved in making this world a more just, more humane, more equitable, sustainable one for everyone on Earth, in ways grounded in their own...


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