Christianity and Buddhism: A Multi-Cultural History of Their Dialogue

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Christianity and Buddhism: A Multi-Cultural History of Their Dialogue. By Whalen Lai and Michael von Bruck. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2001. Pp. xiv, 265. Paperback $40.

Whalen Lai and Michael von Bruck offer us a selective history of Buddhist-Christian dialogue in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in six countries: India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Germany, and the United States. Lai is professor of religious studies and East Asian languages at the University of California, Davis, and von Bruck is a historian of religion and dean of the faculty for evangelical theology at the University of Munich. The important word in the title of their book is "dialogue," which the authors define as "the middle course between refusing to acknowledge the relativity and plurality of religious reality, and a pluralism of preference that would level out all values to a common denominator" (p. 1). Dialogue is central, the authors assert, because religions give meaning to the world's peoples, and the process of globalization has made religions and their cultural carriers so mutually dependent that a common language for discussion (i.e., a hermeneutic) must be developed to facilitate communication. Dialogue produces that hermeneutic.

So how is the Buddhist-Christian contribution to the task of dialogue doing? …